Skip to main content

Full text of "Memoir of Nathaniel Bowditch."

See other formats


^^'i . V . /f . /^^TJ. 


% * • ." / 





"Tlae House in wliicli lie lired." — P. 3. 






Entered according to Act of Congress in the year 1840, by 

John L. Emmons, 
in the Clerk's Office of the District Court of Massachusetts. 

2 School Street. 

Influenced by feelings I could scarcely comprehend, 
while, at the same time they were most sweet to me, I was 
induced to address the pupils of the Warren Street 
Chapel, on the Sunday afternoon after my father died. 
The subjects were his life and serene departure from this 
world. I am aware, that some of my nearest friends thought 
it strange that my heart, on the occasion of his death, 
was so tinged with joyousness. To them I could merely 
say, that an event so calm suggested to me nought of sad- 
ness. I wished my young companions should feel as I did, 
and that in their minds, a quiet death following a good life 
should be clothed with beauty, and that they might feel 
assured, moreover, that in accordance with the Scotch 
proverb, " A gude life makes a gude end." A gentle- 
man who was present during the address, and w^ho is 
deeply interested in the education of the young, request- 
ed me to prepare for his Journal a sketch similar to that 
I had spoken. In accordance with that desire, a Memoir 
was prepared, and after its pubUcation the Warren 
Street Chapel Association requested that it should 
be put, with some revision, into this form. And now, as 
it was originally spoken for them, 




Four years since the Teachers of the War- 
ren Street Chafel published a volume about 
the size of this, containing a Memoir of that 
excellent youth, James Jackson, Jr. The 
public has fully shown that it regarded the 
undertaking with pleasure. 

Since that time the Teachers have given, 
through Retzsch's vivid Outlines, a specimen of 
the very poetry of engraving, in the '^ Game 
OF Life," or the struggles of a pure soul against 
the Principle of Evil, in this world. 

In accordance with their implied promise, 
when publishing Jackson's Memoir, they now 


present the life of a just man. He commenced 
his career with energy and truth, and passing 
tlirough it with constant hopefulness, closed it 
with a calm and happy death. They trust that 
this last may be a fit comipanion for the other 
volume. In the first they strewed flowers up- 
on the grave of early youth ; in this, they hope 
to offer a like tribute to white-haired and ven- 
erable age. Both have the same object, viz. 
the improvement of the young. 
Boston, Dec. 24, 1840. 




[From 1773 to 1784, — under ten years of age.\ 

Birth. — Childhood. 


[From 1784 to 1795, — aged 10—21.] 

His apprenticeship, his habits. — Studies Chambers's 
Cyclopedia. — Results of his studies ; gains the 
respect of all. — Dr. Bentley, Dr. Prince, and Mr. 
Reed, do him kindness ; by their means allowed 
access to " The Philosophical Library." — He makes 



philosophical instruments. — Calculates an Almanac 
at the age of fourteen. — Studies Algebra : delight 
he experienced from this new pursuit. — Learns 
Latin. — Reads works by Sir Isaac Newton. — 
Studies French 12 


[From 1784 to 1796, — aged 10 — 22.] 

Apprenticeship continued. — Favorite of his compan- 
ions. — Learns music: neglects his studies for a 
time. — Gets into bad society : his decision in freeing 
himself from it. — Engages in a survey of the town 
of Salem. — Sails on his first voyage to the East 
Indies : extracts from his Journal during this voyage : 
arrival at the Isle of Bourbon : return home. . . 24 


[From 1796 to 1797, — aged 23 — 24.] 

Second Voyage. — Visits Lisbon. — Island of Madeira : 
festival and games there. — Anecdotes of his skill 



as an accountant. — Doubles Cape of Good Hope. — 
Albatrosses. — Arrival at Manilla. — Extracts from 
Journal. — Curious boat. — Earthquake. — Voyage 
home 32 


[From 1797 to 1800, — ao-e^f 24 — 27.] 

Marriage, — Third voyage ; visits Spain. — Dangers. 
— Earl St. Vincent's fleet. — Arrival at Cadiz. — 
Observatory at Cadiz. — Sails for Alicant. — Passage 
tln-ough the Straits of Gibraltar. — Privateers : chased 
by one : anecdotes of Mr. B.'s love of study shown 
then. — Hears news of the death of his wife : con- 
soles himself with mathematical studies. — More 
troubles with privateers. — Leaves Alicant. — Ad- 
vantages derived from his visit to Spain. — Fourth 
voyage ; to India. — Extracts from Journal on 
viewing a ship that was engaged in the slave-trade. — 
Arrival at Java : introduction to the Governor : re- 
spect formerly paid to him. — Anecdote of English 
Navy Officers. — Goes to Batavia and Manilla. — 
Observations of Jupiter while becalmed near the 
Celebean Islands. — Voyage home 46 




[From 1800 to 1S03.— aged 27 — 30.] 

Second marriage : character of his wife. — Mr. B. en- 
gages in commerce, for two years. — School com- 
mittee. — East-India Marine Society : a description 
of the annual meeting of this society. — Mr. B. 
becomes part owner of ship Putnam, and sails for 
India. — Anecdote, occurrence a few days after 
leaving Salem. — Studies during the long voyage. — 
Begins to study and make notes upon La Place's 
*' Mecanique Celeste." — Arrival off Sumatra : 
difficulties there. — Boarded by EngUsh man-of- 
war. — Revisits Isle of France. — Journal extracts 
about modes of procuring pepper : seasons for it, &c. 
— Incident on approaching Salem harbor. — De- 
cision of Mr. B 62 


Review of the labors, &c., performed by Mr. Bowditch, 
during these voyages. — Habits while at sea : 
studies : desire to teach others : kindness to sailors, 
and to the sick. — Discovers errors in a book on 



Navigation. — Origin of " American Practical 
Navigator :" success of it : industry of Mr. B. upon 
it. — Investigates higher branches of science : — 
" Mecanique Celeste." — Mr. B. reads history. — 
Learns Spanish, French, and Portuguese languages. 
— Anecdotes. — Chosen member of American 
Academy. — Receives honors from Harvard College. 78 


[From 1803 to 1817 — aged 30 — 44.] 

Mr. B. translates a Spanish paper : is chosen President 
of a Fire and Marine Insurance Office. — Habits of 
life. ~ Becomes interested in politics. — Federalists 
and Democrats. — Great excitement. — Division 
between him and old friends, in consequence of 
zeal. — Feelings of Mr. B., when war was de- 
clared. — Decision of character. — His charity. 
— Earnestness in aiding others : ludicrous instance 
of the effects of this. — Boldness towards a truck- 
man. — Zeal for improving the libraries : unites the 
two. — Dr. Prince's church. — Performance of du- 
ties of President of Insurance Office. — Answer 
to an overbearing rich man. — Appointed Professor t 
of Mathematics at Harvard College : same at West 
Point. — His modesty. — Hints about leaving Salem, 91 




[From 1803 to 1823, — aged 30 — 50.] 

Papers published by Mr. B. in the Memoirs of the 
Academy : account of some of them. — Total eclipse 
of the sun in 1806 : effect of it. — Anecdote of Chief 
Justice Parsons. — Meteor that fell over Weston, 
Ct. : account of its curious appearance : effect of 
these papers upon his fame in Europe. — Chosen 
member of most of the learned societies of the 
Old World. — Quits Salem, to become connected 
with larger institutions in Boston 105 


Sketch of the Life of La Place, author of the " Me- 
canique Celeste." — Newton's labors. — Halley's 
comet. — The importance of astronomy to naviga- 
tion. — Comets: Dr. Bowditch's Commentary up- 
on Mecanique Celeste : difficulties attending the 
undertaking : objects he had in view : first volume 
analysed : Newton's error pointed out 120 




Commentary continued : second volume. — Discussion 
between the English and French Mathematicians : 
Dr. B.'s criticisms. — Errors in La Place, in regard 
to the earth, &c. — Third volume : motions of the 
moon. — Fourth volume : many errors discovered 
in it. — Halley's Comet. — Curious phenomena of 
capillary attraction 138 


Sketch of the life of La Grange, the equal of La 
Place: love Dr. B. had for this person's character: 
comparison between him and La Place : also 
between him and Dr. Bowditch. — Conclusion of 
the Memoir 144 




[From 1773 to 1784 — under ten years of age*] 
Birth. — Childhood. 

Nathaniel Bowditch, whose history I 
shall relate to you, was one whose character 
and actions presented many circumstances 
which, I think, cannot fail of being interest- 
ing to you. He died, a short time ago, here, 
in Boston; and, from having been a poor and 
ignorant boy, became a man known all over 
the world, for his great learning, while at the 
same time he was beloved for the goodness of 
his heart and the integrity of his character. 
May the perusal of his history excite some of 
you to imitate his virtues and his energy. 



He was born in Salem, a town about four- 
teen miles from Boston, the capital city of our 
State of Massachusetts. His birthday was 
March 26th, 1773. His father was at first a 
cooper, and afterwards a shipmaster. He and 
his wife were exceedingly poor, and they had 
many children. Nathaniel was the fourth 
child. He had two sisters and three brothers. 
When he was about two and a half years old, 
his parents removed to a very small wooden 
house in Danvers, only three miles, however, 
from Salem ; and here the boy attended school 
for the first time, and began to show those gen- 
erous feelings, and that love of learning, which 
he displayed so much in. after-life. The old 
schooihouse is still standing, in which he 



studied the alphabet, and learned to spell and 
read. It is an old-fashioned building, with a 


long slanting roof, which, at the back of the 
house, nearly reaches the ground. Its single 
chimney, with many curious and pretty corners, 
still rises in the middle of the roof, as it did 
sixty years ago. Around the dwelling is a 
grass plat, upon which he used, when a child 
like yourselves, to play heartily with his school- 
mates. It is now planted wdth shrubs, such as 
the farmers most need. The house in which 
he lived was nearly opposite that in which the 
school Vv^as kept. It had but two rooms in it, 
and all its furniture was of the simplest kind. 

I visited the relations of the schoolmistress. 
She died many, many years ago ; but her niece, 
when I asked about Nathaniel, told me how her 
aunt used to love him, for his earnestness in 
pursuing his studies, and for his gentleness, 
while under her care. He was " a nice boy," 
she was wont to say. While in Danvers, his 
father was most of the time at sea, he having 
been obliged to give up his trade and become a 
sailor, when the Revolutionary War broke out."^ 

* You wil^. know better, by and by, about the Revolu- 
tionary War. I will merely state now, that this war was 
between America and Great Britain, in order to free our-» 
selves from the power of England. The reason why the 


He lived, during his father's absence, very hap- 
pily with his mother and his brothers and sisters. 
During the whole of his after-life, he used to 
delight to go near the small house in which he 
had dwelt so pleasantly. The family was " a 
family of love." He had a brother William, to 
whom he was peculiarly attached. He was 
more grave and sober than Nathaniel ; for the 
latter, with all his devotion to study, was full of 
fun, frolic, and good nature. But William was 
equally, and perhaps more, gentle. The broth- 
ers frequently studied together from an old 
family Bible ; and on Sundays, when they 
were quite small, their grandmother, who was 
a very excellent woman, used to place this large 
book, with its wooden covers and bright brazen 
clasps, upon the foot of her bed ; and hour after 
hour did those two boys trace, with their fin- 
British King had any thing to do with America was this. 
Many years ago, a number of people came over from Eng- 
land, and settled in this country ; and of course the small 
colony needed the aid of the government from which it 
originated. After a time, the people here wanted to gov- 
ern themselves, and they therefore went to battle about it, 
because England would not grant them all their wishes. 
This contest, which lasted for several years, was termina- 
ted by the freedom of the United States. 


gers upon the map, the forty years' wanderings 
of the Israelites, before they came in to the long- 
looked-for land of Canaan. I have said that 
Nathaniel frequently went to look upon the 
house in which he had lived, and so did he 
often call upon the family in which this old 
Bible was kept, in order that he might see the 
volume which he had so loved to pore over, 
when a boy. It reminded him of the delightful 
home of his childhood, where his dear and wor- 
thy mother used to endeavor to make him good, 
in order that he might become an honor to her 
and to the people. His mother was one who 
was extremely kind, yet she was by no means 
afraid to correct her children, if she found them 
erring. Nathaniel sometimes suffered, because, 
like every boy, he sometimes did wrong ; but 
generally, the mother found that he could be 
easily guided by her love. I seem to see her 
now, taking her little son, and leading him to 
the window of the cottage in Danvers, to see 
the beautiful new moon just setting in the west ; 
while, at the same time, she kisses and blesses 
him, and talks to him of his absent father, and 
they both send up earnest wishes for his safe 
and speedy return. She was very careful to 


instil into all her children the importance of 
truth. ^' Speak the truth always, my boy," 
said she. She likewise loved religion, and she 
was very liberal in her feelings towards those 
who differed from her upon this subject. Nev- 
ertheless, believing that the Episcopal kind of 
worship was the most correct, she educated all 
her children in that form. An anecdote, which 
Nathaniel, when he became a man, frequently 
related, will show you how much influence her 
instructions in this particular had upon him. 
Among the Episcopahans, the prayers are read 
and the people repeat, aloud, some answer. 
One day, Nathaniel called his brothers and 
sisters around him, and, taking his mother's 
book of prayer, with a sober face began to read 
aloud from it, while his brothers made the an- 
swers. They had continued some minutes 
amusing themselves in this way, when their 
mother entered the room. She was very much 
troubled, at first, as she supposed they were 
ridiculing the services she held as sacred. '^ My 
sons," said she, ''I am pleased to see you read 
that book ; but you should never do so in a 
careless manner." Her feelings were relieved, 
by their assuring her they meant no disrespect. 


The family was very poor ; so poor, indeed, 
that sometimes they had nothing to eat for sev- 
eral successive days, but common coarse bread, 
with perhaps a little pork. Wheaten bread 
was almost never allowed any one of them. 
Their clothing, too, was at times very thin. 
Frequently, during the whole winter, the boys 
wore their summer jackets and trousers. At 
times, his schoolmates used to laugh at our 
young friend, because he wore such a thin dress 
when they were thickly clad in winter garments. 
But he never was afraid of their merriment, nor 
made angry by it ; on the contrary, he laughed 
heartily at them, for supposing him unable to 
bear the cold. He knew that no good would 
be gained by complaints, and that he would dis- 
tress his mother if he made any ; he therefore 
bore contentedly his want of clothing, and 
sought even to make himself merry with those 
who ridiculed him. 

At the age of seven years, and after return- 
ing to Salem, he went to a school kept by a 
man named Watson. Master Watson was one 
who had sufficient learning for those times ; 
though the boys who now go to school in Bos- 
too would thmk it very strange, if a master did 



not attempt to teach more than he did. None 
of the scholars had a dictionary. Master Wat- 
son was a good man, but he suffered much from 
headache, and therefore he was frequently liable 
to violent fits of anger, and, when thus excited, 
as it generally happens in such cases, he was 
guilty of injustice. An instance of this, young 
Bowditch met with, not long after he entered 
the school. From early life, he had loved 
ciphering, or arithmetic ; and thinking that at 
school, he would be able to learn something 
more about this than he had previously gained 
from his brothers, while at home, during the 
long winter evenings, he requested the master to 
allow him to study it. As he seemed too young, 
this request was not granted. But, being deter- 
mined to study what pleased him so much, he 
obtained a letter from his father, in which Mr, 
Bowditch requested Mr. Watson to allow his 
son to pursue his favorite study. The school- 
master, on receiving the message, was very an- 
gry, and said to his pupil, ^' Very well. I'll 
give you a sum that will satisfy you ; " and im- 
mediately prepared a question that he thought 
Nathaniel would be unable to answer, and 
which he could not have answered had he not 


Studied at home. But the boy had learned 
before, sufficiently to enable him to perform 
the task ; and, having done so, he ran gaily to 
the desk, expecting to be praised for his proper 
performance of duty. You may imagine his 
surprise at being saluted with these words ; 
** You little rascal, who shewed you how to do 
this sum ? I shall punish you for attempting to 
deceive me." The poor lad's heart swelled and 
beat violently. He blushed and trembled, from 
fear of punishment ; but still more at the sus- 
picion which his instructer had expressed, that 
he had been guilty of teUing a lie. Filled with 
contending emotions, he stammered out, '^ I did 
it, sir." But his master would not believe 
him, and was about to strike him, when an elder 
brother interfered, and stated that Nathaniel 
knew very well how to perform the task, for he 
himself had previously taught him enough to en- 
able him to do it. Our young arithmetician 
thus escaped the punishment; but he never 
could forget that he had been accused of false- 
hood. His pious and truth-loving mother had 
so firmly fastened in his mind the holiness of 
truth, that he never thought" of deviating from 
it J and, during his life, he considered that any 


one, who even suspected him of falsehood, had 
done him the greatest injury. How well it 
would be, if all of our boys loved truth as he 

This was the only serious difficulty he met 
with, while at this school. He was the same 
lively lad at every thing he undertook, that he 
had been previously. He was beloved by his 
comrades, for his good nature, and was always 
engaged in useful employment or innocent 
amusements. When he was about ten years 
of age, his father became poorer than ever ; 
and moreover, in consequence of loss of regular 
employment and of the little property \\ hich he 
possessed, he^ave himself up to habits of intox- 
ication. From having beLm a brave man, he 
became a coward ; and, unable to look at the 
distress of his family, made their pov^^rty many 
times more burdensome, by habits which wholly 
unfitted him for active duties. Under these 
circumstances, his son, at the age of ten years 
and three months, left school, and soon after- 
wards was bound an apprentice to Messrs. 
Ropes and Hodges, who kept a ship-chandler's 


As this was one of the important times in his 
life, I think 1 will finish this chapter with only- 
two remarks, for the boys and girls who may be 
reading this. You see a boy, who, before he 
was ten years old, showed great love of truth ; 
great perseverance ; intense love of study, par- 
ticularly of ciphering ; and lastly, you perceive 
him under the influence of a good mother, who 
devoted herself to exciting in him all just and 
holy sentiments ; particularly does she point out 
to him truth as one grand aim of his existence. 
Now, I wish you to remember these facts, and 
see where they eventually lead him ; and if 
you remember, you may be induced to imitate 
him, in some respects. 




\From 1784 to 171,5, — between the ages often and twenty-one."] 

His apprenticeship, his habits. — Studies Chambers's Cy- 
clopedia. — Results of his studies ; gains the respect of 
all. — Dr. Bentley, Dr. Prince, and Mr. Reed, do him 
kindness ; by their means allowed access to " The Philo- 
sophical Library." — He makes philosophical instru- 
ments. — Calculates an Almanac at the age of fourteen. 
— Studies Algebra : delight he experienced from this 
new pursuit. — Learns Latin. — Reads works by Sir 
Isaac Newton. — Studies French. 

Doubtless, it was with a sorrowing heart 
that Nathaniel left his own dear home<, and his 
kind mother, to take up his abode among stran- 
gers ; for he was to live at the house of his em- 
ployer, Mr. Hodges. eBut, if he did feel sad, he 
was not one to neglect a duty in consequence 
of sorrow. The shop in which he was employ- 
ed was situated very « ear the wharves, in the 
lower part of the town of Salem. We do not 
see many such stores now, in Boston ; though 
something similar is sometimes found in small 
country towns. In it, a great variety of goods 
was sold, especially every thing which would be 
useful to a sailor. Pork and nails, hammers 
and butter, were kept in adjacent barrels. The 


walls were hung with all the tools needed in 
the seafaring life. There was a long counter in 
it, at one end of which, Nathaniel had his little 
desk ; when not engaged with customers, he used 
to read and write there. He always kept a slate 
by his side ; and, when not occupied by the 
duties of the shop, he was busied with his favor- 
ite pursuit of arithmetic. In the warm weather 
of summer, when there was little business, and 
the heat was uncomfortable, he was frequently 
seen by the neighbors ciphering, while his slate 
rested upon the half- door of the shop ; for in 
those days the shop-doors were made in two 
parts, so that frequently the lower half was shut 
while the upper was open. Thus he was 
always actively employed, instead of being idle, 
as is too frequently the case with boys in simi- 
lar circumstances. Even on the great holy days 
of Fourth of July and General Training, he did 
not leave his studies for the purpose of going to 
see the parade, but remained at the shop, labor- 
ing to improve himself; or, if the shop was 
closed, he was in his little garret-room at his 
employer's house. Study and reading w^ere be- 
ginning to be his only recreation. Frequently, 
after the store w^as closed at night, he remained 


until nine or ten o'clock, instead of spending the 
evening in folly or guilt. Many long winter 
nights he passed in a similar manner, at his 
master's house, by the kitchen fire. While here, 
he did not become morose or ill-natured, but 
frequently, when the servant girl wished to go 
to see her parents, who lived one or two miles 
off, he took her place by the side of the cradle 
of his master's child, and rocked it gently with 
his foot, while busily occupied at his books. 
This was one of the sweetest incidents in this 
great man's life. It was the germ of his benev- 
olence in after life. A truly great man is kind- 
hearted as well as wise. Nathaniel began 
thus early his course of genuine humanity and 
science. So must you do if you would imitate 

As he became older, he became interested in 
larger and m.ore important w^orks ; and of these, 
fortunately, he found an abundant supply. His 
employer lived in the house of Judge Ropes, 
and Nathaniel had permission to use the library 
of this gentleman as much as he wished. In 
this collection he found one set of books, which 
he ever afterwards valued very much. He 
sought to purchase a copy of it; when he was 


old, having the same kind of feeling towards it 
that lie bore towards his grandmother's Bible. 
It was Chambers's Cyclopedia. As you may 
judge from the name Cyclopedia, these books, 
consisting of four very large volumes, contained 
much upon a great many subjects. It is hke a 
dictionary. He read every piece in it ; and 
copied into blank books, which he obtained for 
the purpose, every thing he thought particularly 
interesting, especially all about ciphering. Pre- 
viously, he had studied navigation, or the methods 
whereby the sailors are enabled to guide their 
ships across the ocean. In this Cyclopedia he 
found much upon this subject ; also upon astron- 
omy, or the knowledge of the stars, and other 
heavenly bodies ; and upon mensuration, or the 
art with which we are enabled to measure large 
quantities of land or water. 

But he w^as not satisfied with merely studying 
what others did. He made several dials and 
curious instruments for measuring the weather, 
&c. He likewise, at the age of fourteen years, 
made an Almanac, so accurately and minutely 
finished, that it might have been published. 
Whilst engaged upon this last, he was more 
than usually laborious. The first rays of the 


morning saw him at labor, and he sat up, with 
his rushhght, until late at night. If any asked 
where Nathaniel was, the reply was, *' He is en- 
gaged in making his Almanac." He was just 
fourteen years of age, when he finished it. It 
is now in existence, and in his library. This 
library consists of more than two thousand 
books, which, during his long life, he had col- 
lected. Yet, to my mind, the little Almanac is 
the most valuable book of the whole, because it 
was the first evidence he gave of his persever- 
ance of mind. 

August 1, 1787, that is, at the age of four- 
teen, he was introduced to a mode of calculating 
which was wholly new to him. His brother 
came home from his school, where he had been 
learnino; navio;ation, and told him that his master 
had a mode of ciphering by means of letters. 
Nathaniel puzzled himself very much about the 
matter, and imagined a variety of methods of 
'' ciphering widi letters." He thought that per- 
haps A added to B made C ; and B added to 
C made D ; and so on ; but there seemed to 
him no use in all this. At length he begged 
his brother to obtain for him the book. The 
schoolmaster readily lent it ; and it is said that 


the boy did not sleep that night. He was so 
dehghted with reading about this method, or al- 
gebra, as it is called, that he found it impossible 
to sleep. He afterwards talked with an old 
English sailor, who happened to know some- 
thing about the subject, and received some lit- 
tle instruction from him. This person after- 
wards went to his own country ; but, just before 
he left Salem, he patted Nathaniel upon the 
head, and said, " Nat, my boy, go on studying 
as you do now, and you will be a great man one 
of these days." You will see, before finishing 
this story, that the prophecy of the old sailor 
was amply fulfilled. 

But all this labor, this constant exertion, must, 
you will think, have given him friends. Your 
suspicion is very correct. He became known 
as a young man of great promise ; as one 
more capable than his elders were of deciding 
many questions, particularly all those in which 
any calculations were to be made. Conse- 
quently, when about seventeen or eighteen 
years old, he was frequently called upon, 
by men much older than himself, to decide im- 
portant questions. All these he attended to so 
wilbngly, that those who applied to him became 


very much attached to him. But he gained the 
notice not merely of common persons, less 
learned than himself; but his industry, his fidel- 
ity to his employers, his talents, attracted the 
notice of men well known in the community. 
Among these were two clergymen of the town. 
At the church of one of these he attended for 
divine worship; and Dr. Bentley used never to 
pass the store, without stepping in, to talk with 
his young friend. Nathaniel likewise availed 
himself of the learning of Dr. Bentley ; and 
often visited his room, in order to converse with 
him. Dr. Prince was the other clergyman. 
This gentleman had studied much the same sub- 
jects that the apprentice was pursuing, and he 
was very glad to see a young man zealous in the 
same pursuits. There was another individual, 
who kept an apothecary's shop ; and it was he, 
who, with the aid of the two clergymen, opened 
to our young student the means of continuing his 
favorite studies, with more success than he had 
ever anticipated. Mr. Reed, for that was his 
name, likewise gave him permission to use all his 
books, pf which he had a great many. But the 
chief means of study, to which I allude, was the 
permission to take books from a library which had 


been formed by a number of gentlemen of the 
town. The kindness of the proprietors of this 
library was never forgotten by the young ap- 
prentice ; and in his will, made fifty years after- 
wards, he left a thousand dollars, in order to repay 
the debt of gratitude which he felt he had in- 
curred. But you may want to know something 
about the formation of this library, and the books 
of which it was composed. Sometime during the 
Revolutionary War, alluded to in Chapter I., 
Dr. Kirwan, an Irishman and a learned man, put 
the greater part of his library on board a ship, in 
order to have it carried across the Irish Channel. 
While on the voyage, the vessel was taken by 
an American ship of war, and the books were 
all carried into Beverly, and were afterwards 
sold at auction, in Salem. Of all in the world 
these books were perhaps those most needed by 
the apprentice. He had been studying those 
sciences chiefly, concerning which there were 
very few works printed in America ; and sud- 
denly he found himself allowed free access to 
all the important books which had been printed 
in Europe, upon these same subjects. You may 
readily imagine how eagerly he av^ailed himself 
of the opportunity thus afforded him. Every 


two or three days he was seen with a number 
of volumes under his arm, going homeward, and 
on his arrival there, he read and copied all he 
wanted to study at that time or refer to after- 
wards. He made, in this way, a very large col- 
lection of manuscripts, and which now form a part 
of his library. Thus, by his own exertions, he, 
at the early age of eighteen, became acquainted 
with the writings of most of the learned men 
of Europe ; and he did this, at the time when 
he was engaged almost constansly in his store, 
for he made it a strict rule, never to allow any 
study or reading, however interesting, to inter- 
fere with his duties to his employers. 

Upon one occasion indeed, a customer called 
and purchased a pair of hinges at a time when 
the young clerk was deeply engaged in solving 
a problem in mathematics, which he thought he 
would finish before charging the delivery of them 
upon the books, and when the problem was 
solved he forgot the matter altogether. In a 
few days, the customer called again to pay for 
them, when Mr. Hodges himself was in the 
shop. The books were examined and gave no 
account of this purchase. The clerk upon be- 
ing applied to, at once recollected the circum- 


Stance, and the reason of his own forget fulness, 
and from that day he made it an invariable rule 
to finish every matter of business that he be- 
gan, before undertaking any thing else. Per- 
haps some of you may remember the story, and 
vi^hen you think of leaving anything half finished, 
you may repeat to yourselves, "'' Charge your 
hinges, and finish what you begin." 

Having been instructed in the elements of al- 
gebra, Nathaniel soon found that there were 
books written upon it in other languages, which 
he knew he ought to read, if he intended to 
learn as much about it as he could. One of 
these books was written in a tongue which is 
known by the name of a dead language, in con- 
sequence of its having ceased to be spoken by 
the people of the country in which it was origi- 
nally used. It was in Latin. This language 
usually requires many years of study, if one 
wishes to read it v/ell, even v^/hen he has able 
instructers. Our hero, however, never thought 
of the difficulties he had to surmount, but com- 
menced, alone, the study of it, June 1790. He 
was soon in trouble. He could not understand 
his Latin book on mathematics. He asked 
many who had been at college, but they were 


puzzled by the peculiar expressions as much as 
he was. At length, however, by the aid of his 
friend. Dr. Bentley, and afterwards, of a German 
who gave him lessons, he succeeded in master- 
ing the greatest work in modern times, written 
by Sir Isaac Newton, who, you know, was one 
of the most renowned philosophers that has ever 
lived in this world. He moreover discovered in 
one part of it, a mistake, which, several years 
afterwards, he published ; but he was deterred 
from doing so at first, because a very much older 
person than he, a professor in the college, said 
that the apprentice was mistaken. 

But Latin was not the only language that he 
learned. Finding in the Kirwan library many 
books upon mathematics, written in French, he 
determined to learn that tongue, likewise. Ac- 
cordingly, at the age of nineteen, (May 15, 
1792,) he began to study it. Fortunately, he 
was able to make an arrarigement with the 
above-mentioned foreigner, who wished to learn 
English. Mr. Jordy agreed to teach the ap- 
prentice French, on condition that Nathaniel 
would teach him English. For sixteen months 
they met regularly, a certain number of times 
a week, and the consequences were very impor- 


tant to the youth's future success in Hfe. One 
circumstance took place during this study of 
French which I think it important to mention. 
Nathaniel, thinking merely to learn to read a 
French book, supposed that it would be scarcely 
necessary to spend time in learning accurately 
to pronounce the words. These, as is the case 
in the English tongue, are frequently pronounced 
very differently from the manner in which we 
should be led to speak them, if we judged merely 
from their mode of being spelled. His master 
protested against teaching, without reference to 
the pronunciation ; and, after much arguing, 
Nathaniel consented to the wishes of his in- 
structer, and he studied the lano-uao^e in such a 
way, that he could converse with a Frenchman, 
as well as read a French book. You will soon 
see the good that resulted. But now I must 
close my chapter. 



[From 1784 to 1796, — age, 10 — 22.1 

Apprenticeship continued. — Favorite of his companions. 

— Learns music: neglects his studies for a time. — Gets 
into bad society : his decision in freeing himself from it. 

— Engages in a survey of the town of Salem. — Sails on 
his first voyage to the East Indies : extracts from his 
Journal during this voyage : arrival at the Isle of Bour- 
bon: return home. 

Though so interested in his studies, Na- 
thaniel tried, as we have seen, never to neglect 
a known duty. Though busily engaged, when- 
ever any one came to the store he was ready to 
leave study, in order to attend to him. And he 
did this so cheerfully, and with so bright a smile, 
that all were pleased to meet him. His young 
companions loved him, for he was not one of 
those vain persons who think themselves more 
important than others, because they are more 
learned. On the contrary, what he knew him- 
self he longed to impart to others. He was a 
member of a juvenile club, for the discussion of 
different subjects. In this association his opinion 
had much weight, because he rarely spoke, and 


never, unless he had something of importance 
to say. 

Some of his comrades were very fond of music. 
He had originally a great taste for it. Music, at 
that time, was less cultivated than it is now ; and 
generally, those who practised it were fond of 
drinking ardent spirits. Nathai.iers love of the 
flute led him, at times, to meet with several 
young men of this class. In fact, he was so 
much deHghted with their company, that he be- 
gan to forget his studies. Day after day, he spent 
his leisure hours in their society ; and, for a time, 
all else was nedected. At leno;th, he beo;an to 
think thus : '' What am I doing ? forgetting my 
studies, in order to be with young men whose 
only recommendation is, that they love music ? 
Their characters I despise, though I love their 
songs. I will do so no longer." He decided, 
and immediately he forsook them. 

May every boy who reads this remember it, 
and try, if ever led into temptation as the ap- 
prentice was, to say, '^ I will not," with the 
same determined courage that he did. 

The time was fast approaching, when he was 
about to leave the business of shop-keeping, and 
enter upon the more active duties of life. It is 


true^ that, to a certain extent, he had been en- 
gaged in active life ever since entering his ap- 
prenticeship. At the age of ten, he had left the 
home of his loved mother, and had been obliged 
to depend much upon himself. His father's 
habits had wholly prevented him from being of 
service to the family. The mother had died ; 
the family had been broken up ; and Nathaniel 
had thus at an early age been thrown upon the 
world. After having remained with Ropes & 
Hodges until they gave up business, Nathaniel 
entered the shop of Samuel C. Ward, which 
was a similar establishment, and there he re- 
mained until he was twenty-one years old. He 
then quitted, forever, this employment. 

In 1794, by a law of the State, every town 
was obliged to have an accurate survey and 
measurement made of its limits. Captain Gi- 
baut and Dr. Bentley were appointed to super- 
intend this business, by the Selectmen of Salem. 
Believing that the calculating powers of the 
apprentice would be useful to them, he was 
made assistant; and, during the summer of 
1794, he was thus occupied. Thus we see how 
his studies already began to be useful to him. 
For his share of the pay, on this occasion, he 


received one hundred and thirty-five dollars. 
Towards the termination of the summer, Mr. 
Derby, a rich ship-owner in Salem, wished Capt. 
Gibaut to take command of a vessel to Cadiz, 
and thence round the Cape of Good Hope to 
the East Indies. Captain G. consented, and 
he proposed to Mr. Bowditch to go with him, 
as clerk. Mr. B. agreed to the terms, and ar- 
rangements were made, when, owing to some 
difficulty with Mr. Derby, Captain Gibaut re- 
signed to Captain H. Prince. Mr. Bowditch 
was unknown to the latter ; but, at the sugges- 
tion of Mr. Derby, who had heard of the talents 
and industry of the clerk, the same arrange- 
ments were continued by Captain Prince. 

Thus we see a nev/ era in his life was begin- 
ning ; and let us look a moment at him. He is 
now twenty-one years of age. More learned, 
already, than many much older than himiself, in 
consequence of his untiring industry, and his 
devotion to duty. Yet he is modest and retir- 
ing. He is still full of joyousness and fun, at 
times, and always ready for acts of kindness. 
Above all, he is a good youth ; no immorality 
has ever stained him ; he is as pure as snow. His 
love of truth had been given him by his mother ; 


and, since her death, he has loved it still more. 
It is to him a bright light, as it were, to guide 
him. Cannot we foresee his career ? 

On January 11, 1795, that is, when he was 
a few months more than twenty-one years of 
age, he sailed from Salem, in the ship Henry. 
Though he went as clerk, he was prepared to 
undertake the more active duties of sailor and 
mate of the vessel. Thinking that he should 
be too much occupied to be able to read, he 
took very few books ; and therefore he devoted 
much more time to observ^ations of the heavenly 
bodies, the state of the weather, Sic, while at 
sea, and upon the manners and habits of the 
nations he visited, than he did to reading. 
Though he had not been educated as a sailor- 
boy, his studies had prepared him to understand 
the most important part of a seaman's Hfe, the 
art of p-uidino; the vessel from one shore to 
another, across the ocean. In other words, he 
had studied much on navigation, and copied 
books upon that subject. 

The journal which lie kept during the voyage 
is quite long. One of the first lines you meet, 
on opening the book, is the motto which he 
chose for himself. It is in Latin, and means^ 



that he ivould do what he thought to he right, 
and not obey the dictates of any man. He 
notes the events of eveiy day, most of which 
are similar ; but occasionally, something unusual 

February 7, 1795, he writes thus: ^^ At 10, 
A. M., spoke a ship, twenty-five days out from 
Liverpool, bound to Africa. We discovered her 
this morning, just before sunrise, and supposed 
her to be a frigate." They discovered, soon, 
that it was a negro slave-ship, and he exclaims 
thus : " God grant that the detestable traffic 
which she pursues may soon cease, and that the 
tawny sons of Africa may be permitted quietly 
to enjoy the blessings of liberty, in their native 

'^ February 22. We remember with gratitude 
that this is the anniversary of the birth of our 
beloved Washington, the man who unites all 
hearts. May he long continue a blessing to his 
country and to mankind at large ! " 

During the passage to the Isle of Bourbon, 
situated, as you know, east of the southern ex- 
tremity of Africa, he frequently alludes to his 
'native land, in terms of respect and love. On 
May 8th, the ship arrived in the harbor of Bour- 


bon. Perhaps you may like to see his descrip- 
tion of the town. 

" May 9th. After dinner, Captain P., Mr. 
B.j and I, went to see the town. It is a fine 
place. All the streets run in straight lines from 
the shore, and cross one another at right angles. 
There is a church here, with a priest to officiate. 
I went into it. We afterwards went into the 
republican garden. It is a beautiful place, 
though at present much neglected. The differ- 
ent walks are made to meet in the centre, and 
form the figure of a star, each one of the rays of 
which is formed by thirty-four mango trees, 
placed from twelve to fourteen feet apart. All 
the houses of the island are built very low ; 
they have no chimneys. They are two stories 
high, (about ten feet), have lattice windows, 
outside of which are w^ooden ones to keep off 
the sun and rain. The floors are made of the 
wood of the country, on which they rub wax, as 
the women of America do on their furniture. It 
makes them very slippery." — There are other 
places, of which he speaks, and in them he finds 
flower-gardens, in abundance, intermixed with 
groves of coffee and orange trees, &;c. 


He afterwards alludes to the poor slaves, who, 
it appeared, suffered as much there as they do 
in some other places, at the present day. 

He visits the people of the place, and finds 
them superstitious and vicious. Alluding to the 
vice, he found there, he writes : ^' I was remind- 
ed of the beautiful words of Solomon, in the 
Proverbs."— This was not the only occasion on 
which he remembered his Bible ; and it seemed 
to have a kindly influence over him, always. On 
one occasion, several young men argued with 
him about its truth ; and, having heard them 
patiently, he at length struck his breast : '' Talk 
no more about it. I know that the Bible is 
true ; that it is capable of doing to me the 
greatest good. I know so, by the feelings I 
have here." 

After remaining in this corrupt place until 
July 25, he set sail for home, and arrived in 
Salem, January 11, 1796, having been absent 
exactly twelve months. 



[From 1796 to 1797, — aged 23 — 4.] 

Second Voyage. — Visits Lisbon. — Island of Madeira: 
festival and games there. — Anecdotes of his skill as an 
accountant. — Doubles Cape of Good Hope. — Alba- 
trosses. — Arrival at Manilla. — Extracts from Journal. 
Curious boat. — Earthquake. — Voyage home. 

After remaining at home about two 
months, he again sailed in the same ship and 
with Captain Prince. On the twenty-sixth of 
the following March, they got under weigh 
from Salem harbor ; but, being prevented, by 
the severity of the wind, from getting out of the 
bay, the anchor w^as dropped dm'ing the night, 
and on the ensuing morning, under fair but 
strong breezes, our hero was again on his way 
across the wide Atlantic. His course was to- 
wards Lisbon, situated at the mouth of the river 
Tagus, in Portugal. The first part of the voy- 
age w^as unpleasant, because cloudy and stormy 
weather prevailed most of the time ; but during 
the latter part, under pleasant and mild breezes 
from the south, the ship rode gaily onwards, 
and, on the morning of April 24th3 the sailor 


discovered the rock of Lisbon, with its beautiful 
and romantic country behind it. Lisbon is the 
chief city of Portugal, and presents a very 
superb appearance from a vessel which is enter- 
ing the harbor. It is the principal commercial 
place for the kingdom ; therefore, its inhabitants 
are among the richest. In consequence of its 
being the place of residence of. the kings of 
Portugal, many magnificent country-seats, or 
villas, are seen on all the vine-covered hills of 
the adjacent country. 

The stay at this city was but short, and the 
opportunities for visiting the interesting places 
in it, very limited. Mr. Bowditch seems not to 
have been particularly pleased with its appear- 
ance. At the time he was there, probably 
much less attention was paid to the cleanliness 
of the streets, than there is now. But he spent 
the twenty-eighth and twenty-ninth of April in 
walking about the city, and says, in his Journal, 
that he *' found nothing remarkable." 

It was at Lisbon that Mr. Bowditch discov- 
ered the advantage of having learned to speak 
French, to w^hich I alluded at the close of the 
second chapter. Though a Portuguese port, 
the custom-house officers understood French^ 


and no one on board but he could speak any 
other language than the English. The conse- 
quence was, that he acted as mterpreter, and 
was, of course, of incalculable advantage. This 
incident made a deep impression upon his mind ; 
and in after-life, when any doubted about the 
importance of any kind of knowledge, because, 
for the time, it seemed useless, he would reply, 
" Oh, study every thing, and your learning will, - 
some time, be of service. I once said that I 
would not learn to speak French, because I 
thought that I should never leave my native 
town ; yet, within a few years afterwards, I was 
in a foreign port, and I became sole interpreter 
of the ship's crew, in consequence of m.y ability 
to speak this language." 

On the 30th, having taken on board a quan- 
tity of wine, they were ready again for sea ; but, 
owing to bad weather, did not sail until the 
sixth of May, when the ship dropped down the 
river. On the sixth, it was on its way to the 
Island of Madeira, which is a small island, situa- 
ted about three hundred and sixty miles from the 
northern part of Africa. At eleven o'clock. 
May 15th, the island was discovered ; and, un- 
der full sail, the ship swept along the shore, 


until nine in the evening, when they hailed a 
pilot, who came on board from the town of 
Funchal. Mr. Pintard, the American Consul 
of the place, greeted them very cordially. He 
spent six days there, taking in more wine, for 
which the country is famous, and sailed from it 
on Thursday morning, May 26th, 1796. Dur- 
ing this residence at Mr. Pintard's, he saw some 
feats of horsemanship, about which you may like 
to hear. They are thus described in his Jour- 
nal : **' A ring being suspended by a small wire 
about ten feet from the ground, at the entrance 
of the gate of the public garden, a horseman 
attempted to strike it, and carry it off while 
upon full gallop. If he gained the prize, he was 
attended by the master of ceremonies, mount- 
ed on a small colt fantastically adorned with 
ribands, Sic, with a most deformed mask, who 
generally gave him a reward fully proportioned 
to the merit of the action, perhaps a whistle, a 
small flower, or some little image." During the 
next day, no business was done by the inhabit- 
ants, but the whole of it was devoted to amuse- 
ments similar to those of the preceding. Again, 
there were masquerades, and some of the richest 
men in the place joined with the crowd, masked 


like the people. Others were very richlj 
dressed, like Turks, East Indians, &c. One of 
them wore a head-dress, worth, it was said, forty 
or fifty thousand dollars." From this descrip- 
tion, slight as it is, we may see the difference in 
the customs between these inhabitants of Ma- 
deira and the Americans. 

Captain Prince relates the following anec- 
dotes, which occurred during their residence at 
Madeira. I shall use Capt. Prince's words : 
'' 1 was one day walking with an American 
shipmaster at Madeira, who, in the course of 
conversation, asked me who that young man 
(alluding to Mr. Bowditch) was. I replied, 
that he was clerk of the ship under my com- 
mand, and remarked, that he was a great calcu- 
lator. *' Well," said the gentleman, " I can set 
him a sum that he can't do." I merely an- 
swered that I did not believe it. The gentle- 
man then proposed a wager of a dinner to all 
the American masters in port, that he could set 
him such a sum. The wager was accepted by 
me, and we repaired to the hotel, where we 
found Mr. B. alone. The was intro- 
duced, and the question stated to Mr. Bowditch, 
with the interrogatory, can you do it } The re- 


ply was, yes. The great sum, which had puz- 
zled the brains of the gentleman and all his 
friends at home, for a whole winter, was done in 
a few minutes. I remember the sum (as it was 
called) to have been this : To dig a ditch round 
an acre of land, how deep and how wide must 
that ditch be, to raise the acre of land one foot? 
'' One day, Mr. Bowditch and myself re- 
ceived a visit from a Mr. Murray, a Scotchman, 
who was at that port, having under his charge a 
valuable cargo of English goods, and who made 
many inquiries concerning the Americans. He 
asked particular!}^, what passage we came 
against the northeast monsoon, and remarked, 
that it was very surprising that the Americans 
should come so far and undertake such difficult 
voyages with so little knowledge as they pos- 
sessed of the science of navigation. In reply to 
his remark, I told him, that 1 had on board 
twelve men, all of whom were as well acquaint- 
ed with working lunar observations, for all the 
practical purposes of navigation, as Sir Isaac 
Newton would be, should he come on earth. 
Mr. M. asked how my crew came by that 
knowledge. I told him, in the same manner 
that other men came by theirs. He tliought it 



SO wonderful, that (as he afterwards told me) 
he went down to the landing place on Sunday, 
to see my knoiving crew come on shore. During 
all this conversation, Mr. Bowditch remained 
silent, sitting with his slate pencil in his mouth, 
and as modest as a maid. Mr. Kean, a broker, 
who was also present, observed to Murray, 
' Sir, if you knew what I know concerning that 
ship, you would not talk quite so fast.' . ^ And 
what do you know ? ' asked Murray. ' I know,' 
replied Kean, ' that there is more knowledge of 
navigation on board that American ship, (the 
Astrea,) than there ever was in all the ships 
that ever came into Manilla Bay.' " 

May 26th, as we have already said, he sailed 
for India. On July Ist, the island of Trinidad 
hove in sight. They did not stop there, but, 
keeping on their course steadily, two days after- 
wards crossed the Tropic of Capricorn, in the 
Southern Hemisphere. On the 17th, during 
the night, it having rained during the day, the 
young sailor observed what we rarely see in this 
part of the world and on land, but which is not 
uncommon at sea, a beautiful lunar rainbow. It 
is caused in the same manner as those rainbows 
which are seen after a summer shower, when 


the sun is just coming forth again in glory, and 
the clouds, which cause the bow to be formed, 
are passing away afar off in the opposite part of 
the heavens. But the difference between the 
solar and lunar rainbows, is like that which 
exists between greatness and gentleness. We 
admire and wonder at the sight of the bow of 
Jehovah in the cloud by day, but we love to 
look upon the mild and peaceful Lunar Iris, 
because all its tints are so rich, and delicately 

August 1st, the Journal says : *' All the latter 
part of these twenty-four hours fine breezes and 
pleasant, smoodi sea. Ever since crossing the 
Cape, [of Good Hope,] we have seen a great 
number of Albatrosses, but no fish." These 
birds are the largest of marine birds. They at 
times fly and swim, (for they are web-footed,) 
to a great distance from land, living upon the 
fish and other things which may fall in their way. 
It is said that, as they come gently rising over 
the waves of the sea, they present a very pleas- 
ing sight to the mariner who has been for many 
months separated from living things, upon the 
wide ocean. 

For some weeks afterwards, the ship met with 


severe weather, until September 7th, when, ac- 
cording to previous expectation, they perceived 
the land of the island of Java ; but the day be- 
fore their arrival at that place, a curious pheno*- 
menon was observed, the account of which 1 
will copy from the Journal. '^ At 7, P. M., the 
water, as for the ^two nights past, became of a 
perfect milk color, through the whole extent of 
the horizon. We drew a bucket of it, in order 
to determine whether there was any thing in it, 
to account for the curious phenomenon. When 
seen by candlelight, nothing could be observed ; 
but, when carried into a dark place, it appeared 
full of small bright cylindric substances, of the 
nature of a jelly, about the size of a small wire, 
and a quarter of an inch long. Some large jel- 
lies floated on the water at the same time, and 
looked like long pieces of wood. The sky all 
this time was perfectly clear ; not a cloud to be 
seen. About o, A. M., the water began to take 
its usual color. Next morning, we examined 
the water which had appeared so shining in the 
night, but nothing could be discovered in it, 
although it was viewed in a very dark place. 
In the forenoon, the sea appeared somewhat col- 
ored, of a greenish hue, but some of it being 


taken up, and carried from the light, appeared 

The next mornino; the hig-hlands of the island of 
Java come in sight, on the horizon, at the distance 
of about twenty miles towards the east. The Jour- 
nal of the passage through the Straits of Sunda is 
interesting, because the greatest care was necessary 
to keep the ship off from the shoals which abound 
there. Moreover, the current runs at times very 
swiftly here, the Strait being between the large 
islands of Sumatra and Java. On the 9th, the 
force of this current, and strong head winds, 
caused the captain to cast anchor two or three 
times. Finally, on the 17th, the ship w^as fairly 
out of the Straits of Sunda and Straits of Banca, 
having been ten days, during sultry weather, 
toiling, with much danger, amid coral reef 
and shoals. The remainder of the voyage, 
along by the coast of Borneo to the city of Ma- 
nilla, the capital of the chief of the Philippine 
islands, was more speedy ; and, at six in the 
morning of Sunday, Oct. 2nd, 1796, the island 
of Luzor hove in sight towards the east, about 
eighteen miles ; and that same evening they cast 
anchor in Manilla Bay ; it being a little more 



than six months since the sailor had left his home 
in Salem. 

The following are some extracts from his jour- 
nal, while in the city. Under date of October 
4th, he says : " No coffee can be procured here ; 
the Spaniards, not being very fond of it, culti- 
vate the cocoa, instead. The common drink of 
the natives are sweatmeats and water, which 
they say is wholesome and agreeable. Large 
quantities of wax are produced here, but it is 
very dear, owing to the vast consumption of it 
in the churches, of which there are a great 
number in Manilla and its environs. There are 
a few bishops in the island, and one archbishop, 
whose power is very great. The priests are 
very powerful, every native wearing the image 
of the Virgin Mary, a cross, or some such thing. 
No books are allowed to be imported here con- 
trary to their religion. The commandant who 
makes the visit examines every vessel. ^ ^ * 
The inhabitants of the city and suburbs are very 
numerous, amounting to nearly three hundred 
thousand. In the Philippines, there are about 
two or three millions. A great number are 
Chinese ; and in general, they are a well-made 


people. Their common dress is a shirt and 
trowsers, or jackets and trowsers. The women 
have great numbers of handkerchiefs about thcni, 
so as to be entirely covered. The natives are 
well used by the Spaniards ; the king of Spain, 
in all his public papers, calling them his child- 
ren." From these extracts you may judge of 
young Bowditch's mode of studying a people 
when residing with strangers. He afterwards 
speaks of their games, &c. 

The following description of a boat appears 
on record of October 5th : '' At twelve, set sail 
for Cavite in one of the passage-boats, which is 
very inconvenient for passengers ; being nearly 
three hours before arriving at Cavite, during 
which time I was basking in the sun. Their 
boats and manner of sailing are very curious. 
Having generally light winds, they make their 
mat sails very large, and the boats, made of the 
bodies of trees, are very long and narrow, so 
that there would be great danger of upsetting, 
if it were not for '' out-riggers " which they 
have on each side, consisting of two bamboos 
about eight or ten feet long, whose ends 
are joined to another long bamboo, running 
lengthwise of the boat. The lee one, on a flaw 


of wind, sinks a little in the water, and, being 
buoyant, keeps the boats from upsetting, and, on 
the weather (that is, towards the wind) ones, 
the persons in the boat are continually going out 
and in, according to the force of the breeze. In 
a fresh breeze, there will be six or eight at the 
end of the bamboo, there being ropes leading 
from the top of the rnast to different parts of 
the bamboo, to support them as they go. By 
this means, they keep the boat always upright, 
and make it sail very fast, in a good breeze, 
going five or six knots." After this, a good 
account is ^iven of the mode of countinfi, used 
by the Malays. 

*^ Nov. 5. About two, P. M., there came 
on, without any preceding noise, a very violent 
shock of an earthquake. It commenced toward 
the north, and run very nearly in a southerly 
direction. It continued nearly two minutes ; 
every thing appeared in motion. When it hap- 
pened, the captain and myself were sitting, read- 
ing, and we immediately ran out of the house. 
All the natives were down on their knees, in 
the middle of the streets, praying and crossing 
themselves. It was the most violent earthquake 
known for a number of years. It threw down 


a large house about half a league from the city, 
untiled one of their churches, and did considera- 
ble damage to the houses about the city and its 
suburbs. Nothing of it was felt on board the 

On Monday, December 12th, having sold 
their wines and laden their vessel with sugar, 
indigo, pepper, and hides, the party set sail from 
Manilla, heartily tired with the vices and super- 
stitions of the place. Retracing their course 
through the Straits of Sunda, with much diffi- 
culty they regained the Indian Ocean, and then, 
setting full sail, they once more looked towards 

In coming round the Cape of Good Hope, 
the wind was peculiarly favorable. During their 
passage, several ships were met with, all of 
whom told them of home, and of the beginning 
of troubles between America and France, and 
England. Finally, at six, A. M., saw Cape 
Ann towards the northwest, and at two, P. M., 
May 22, 1797, the vessel was riding at anchor 
in Salem harbor, having been about half round 
the world, and nearly fourteen months from 



[From 1797 to 1800, — aged 24 — 7.] 

Marriage. — Third voyage ; visits Spain. — Dangers. — 
Earl St. Vincent's tieet. — Arrival at Cadiz. •— Observa- 
tory at Cadiz. — Sails for Alicant. — Passage through the 
Straits of Gibraltar. — Privateers : chased by one : anec- 
dotes of Mr. B's love of study shown then. — Hears news 
of the death of his wife : consoles himself with mathe- 
matical studies. — More troubles with privateers. — 
Leaves Alicant. — Advantages derived from his visit to 
Spain. — Fourth voyage ; to India. — Extracts from 
Journal on viewing a ship that was engaged in the slave- 
trade. — Arrival at Java : introduction to the Governor : 
respect formerly paid to him. — Anecdote of English 
Navy Officers. — Goes to Batavia and Manilla. — Obser- 
vations of Jupiter while becalmed near the Celebean 
Islands. — Voyage home. 

During these two voyages, Mr. Bowditch 
had been engaged in trade for himself, and hav- 
ing thereby gained a small fortune, he wished 
to remain at home, and enjoy the blessings of 
domestic life, from which he had been separated 
at the age of ten years, when he left the abode 
of his parents. In accordance with this wish, 
on the twenty-fifth day of Mar^^H, 1798, he 
married a very excellent and intelligent woman, 
named Elizabeth Boardman. But in a few 


months, he was again called to a seafaring life. 
His young and beautiful wife was already be- 
ginning to show symptoms of that disease which 
eventually removed her from her husband and 
friends. It was a hard struggle for the ten- 
derly attached couple to separate themselves ; 
but duty called the husband, and obedience to 
duty was always his watchword. Accordingly, 
by August 15th, 1793, he was prepared for sea, 
in the same ship, with the same owner, Captain 
Derby, and his friend Captain Prince. On this 
occasion he went as joint supercargo. It was on 
the twenty-first of August ; nearly five months 
from the date of his marriage ; that he bade 
adieu to his wife. He never saw her more. 
Full of devotedness to him, she however urged 
him to go forward in the performance of the 
right, unconscious that she should never more 
embrace him. During his absence she died, at 
the early age of eighteen years. 

One of the objects of the present voyage was, 
to go to Cadiz, the chief southern port in Spain. 
It was rather dangerous, at this time, for any 
vessel to sail towards Europe, as the Revolution 
in France had taken place only a short time 
before, and Europe was beginning to rise against 


that country ; and as Spain, at that period, was 
united with France, an English fleet was hover- 
ing about the Straits of Gibraltar. The conse- 
quence was, that it was of great importance to 
avoid all vessels, for fear of meeting a privateer. 

On the nineteenth of September, after nearly 
a month's voyage, they came within sight of the 
shores of Spain ; and at seven, A. M., the next 
day, they discovered the English fleet, under 
command of Earl St. Vincent, several leagues 
to the eastward of them. On this same day 
they were boarded by the captain of an Ameri- 
can vessel, who informed them that the priva- 
teers were very numerous in the Straits. 

By Mr. Bowditch's Journal, we learn the 
following : 

'' On Thursday afternoon, twentieth of Sep- 
tember, the winds continued light and variable 
to the w^estward. Captain Prince steered di- 
rectly for Earl St. Vincent's fleet, and at tw^o, 
P. M., the Hector, of seventy-four guns, Capt. 
Camel, sent his lieutenant on board, ordering 
us to bear down to him. Captain Prince went 
aboard, was treated politely, and received a 
passport to enter Cadiz." On the twenty-first, 
at four, P. M., anchor was cast in that harbor. 


The state m which y.oor Spain was, at this 
time, was miserable enough, lliere was but 
one newspaper in the yhole V'jj^dom, and that 
was printed at Madrid. Every thing was de- 
graded about that once noble and brave-hearted 
people. Upon the appeaia*^ e of Cadiz, the 
Journal says thur. . ' Tiie streeis of the city, 
although narrow, are very neatly paved, and 
swept every day, so that they are very clean. 
They have broad, flat stone? at the sides. All 
the houses are of store, with roofs but little 
sloping. There are fortifications all around the 

" September 29th, 1798. This day, news 
came of the destruction of the French fleet, in 
the Mediterranean Sea, by Lord Nelson." Of 
this event you will read in history, at some 
future time ; but it was deemed very important 
at that time by the whole world. It w^as one 
of the most formidable checl s received by the 
French, after they had begun to verrun Europe. 

This news, of course, was dei ^^ly interest- 
ing to our voyager ; but, although excited by 
the political and military contests of the duy, he 
did not forget the subject to which from earliest 
years he had devoted himself. You will per- 


ceive, from the following extracts from his Jour- 
nal, that he now was studying astronomy. In 
fact, he had been reading, during his previous 
voyages, many of the greatest works on mathe- 
matics and astronomy. 

*^ November 12th. During our residence in 
Cadiz we formed an acquaintance with Count 
Mallevante, who, before the Revolution, com- 
manded a French frigate at Martinico, and at 
present is a post-captain in the Spanish navy. 
He carried us to the New Observatory, built on 
the island of Cadiz, where we were shown all 
the instruments they had mounted. There were 
not any of them very new. The person who 
went with us was named Cosmo de Churruca. 
I promised to send him, on my arrival in Amer- 
ica, the works of Dr. Holyoke, on Meteorology. 
I gave him my method of working a lunar obser- 
vation, which he was to print at the end of the 
Nautical Almanac." 

" At half past four, P. M., got under way, 
and beat out of the harbor of Cadiz, in com- 
pany with three other American vessels ; which 
sailed under the protection of the Astrea." 
They were destined for Alicant, and conse- 
quently their course lay through the Straits of 


Gibraltar, up along the south-eastern coast of 
Spain. On the afternoon of the fourteenth, they 
fell in again with the English fleet, which, with 
those under their convoy, consisted of forty-five 
vessels. As the fleet was steering in the same 
direction, they kept company with it, being all 
bound for the Straits of Gibraltar. On next day, 
saw another convoy, of twenty vessels, and two 
of those accompanying the Astrea joined it. 
The Astrea was obliged to fall behind, because 
the remaining vessel under its protection sailed 
too slowly. On the eighteenth, the whole con- 
voy entered the Straits, except one, which was 
chased by French privateers, ten of which could 
be counted in full view ; but, on the approach 
of the Astrea, the enemy retreated. 

The moon was shining brightly, on the night 
of the nineteenth of November, 1799. Many 
times had the bell broken over the silent sea 
from the ship's deck, telling of the passing 
hours ; when, suddenly, the crew of the Astrea 
was called to quarters, for a suspicious sail was 
seen bearing down towards them. The cannon, 
of which nineteen were on board, were all 
cleared for action, and every man, placed at his 
post, watched anxiously as the privateer came 


rapidly towards them. Captain Prince assigned 
to Mr. Bowditch a station in the cabin, through 
whcih the powder was to be passed to the deck. 
When all on deck was ready, and that deep 
and solemn silence which always pervades every 
part of a ship that is just approaching the 
enemy, was beginning to creep over those on 
board the Astrea, the Captain stepped for a 
moment into the cabin, to see if every thing was 
in order, and ^^ there sat Mr. Bowditch at the 
cabin table, with his slate and pencil in hand, 
and with the cartridges lying by his side." 
Entirely absorbed with his problem, he forgot 
all danger, thus showing that his love of science, 
even when in imminent peril, was superior to all 
feelings of fear. This anecdote, doubtless, will 
amuse you, and it reminds me of the geometri- 
cian Archimedes, who lived two hundred years 
before Christ, who, as some of you may know, 
was slain by the soldiers of the Roman General 
Marcellus, when they sacked the city of Syra- 
cuse. Archimedes had labored much for his 
countrymen, during the siege, but finally be- 
came so engaged in his studies, that he was 
totally ignorant that the soldiers had taken pos- 
session of the town, until they attacked and 


killed him. Fortunately, in the case of Mr. 
Bowditch, no evil ensued. Captain Prince him- 
self could not restrain his feelings, but burst into 
a loud laugh, and asked Mr. Bowditch whether 
he could make his will at that moment, to 
which question Mr. B. answered, with a smile, 
in the affirmative. Captain Prince adds, *' But 
on all occasions of danger, he manifested great 
firmness, and, after the affair of the privateer, 
(which, by the by, did not molest us,) he re- 
quested to be stationed at one of the guns, which 
request was granted him." 

In this way, they continued cruising along 
the beautiful Mediterranean, but perpetually ex- 
posed to danger. Now, they come within sight 
of the high lands of Malaga, and shortly they 
fly away from some pirate on the broad sea. 
Now, they are quietly sailing along under the 
warm and sunny skies of an Andalusian climate j 
and again, in the course of a few hours, are 
driven by the current and tempest far away, to 
the southwest. Finally, after a tedious passage, 
the ship was moored, on Friday evening, No- 
vember twenty-third, in the harbor of Alicant. 
After considerable difficulty, on account of the 
city authorities, for fear of disease being brought 

54 MEMOIR 0^ 

into the place, by the crews of the ships, they 
were at lens^th allowed to go on shore. But 
melancholy tidings awaited our voyager. By a 
Salem vessel that had arrived at Cadiz, news 
came of the death of his wife, sometime in the 
preceding October. He made no complaints 
however. He never thought it right to com.- 
plain of the trials that fell upon him, but he 
quietly sought to interest his mind in his favorite 
pursuit of astronomy. He always did so, when- 
ever any trouble came upon him. In this way 
he consoled himself, and was not a burden to 
others, by being of a discontented spirit. 

January 24th, 1799, having finished loading 
their ship with brandy, they would have sailed, 
had not the wind prevented. On February 
eleventh, they v/ere still detained by head-winds^ 
but now, to their discomfort, they saw a French 
privateer cruising off in the bay at the mouth of 
the harbor. It was evidently waiting to entrap 
some one of the American vessels. On the 
next day, the daring of the privateer comman- 
der arose to such a height, that he rowed in his 
barge all around the American fleet, and insult- 
ed some of the people. Towards evening of 
February thirteenth, Mr. Bowditch narrowly 


escaped serious difficulty with them, as the pri- 
vateer barge and the American boat, coming 
from shore, came in contact ; but the former re- 
ceived the most damage, and Mr. Bowditch got 
safely on board the Astrea. On the fourteenth, 
the brigand of the sea departed, and his ship 
was soon seen gradually losing itself in the dis- 
tance over the blue Mediterranean. 

On the next day, the convoy sailed. It con- 
sisted of five vessels, and, by twenty-four hours 
of favorable breezes, they were brought within 
thirty miles of the coast of Barbary ; and, after 
some trouble, in consequence of being obliged 
to take in tow those of the convoy which sailed 
more slowly, the "Astrea was fairly out from the 
Straits of Gibraltar by February twenty-fourth, 
that is, three days from the time of leaving 

During half the passage home, some of the 
convoy were in company with them. They 
had rough seas ; but, on the sixth of April, at 
ten o'clock at night, Mr. Bowditch arrived in 
Salem habor, having been absent nearly nine 

This visit to Spain was of service to him, in 
many respects. He there obtained many books 


on astronomy and navigation, and some cele- 
brated works on history, all of which he studied 
with care, on his voyage home. He, moreover, 
had gained some knowledge by his visit to the 

He was not destined to remain at home a long 
while ; but the Astrea having been sold to a 
merchant in Boston, Mr. Bowditch sailed 
with Captain Prince from that city, on the 
twenty-third of the following July, bound for 
India. It was a long, and, to most persons, a 
tedious, voyage that he was about to undertake; 
but to Mr. Bowditch it was the means of im- 
provement. While the ship was sailing quiet- 
ly along, or sinking lazily from one swell of the 
sea to another, or borne towards heaven on the 
most violent gale, Mr. Bowditch was still labor- 
ing at his books. During this voyage, as during 
the preceding, he did not perform much duty, 
except when in port ; and consequently, on 
board ship, he had a great deal of time to be 
devoted to study. And he worthily filled every 
moment with reading and intense study, to im- 
prove himself or others. Very few incidents 
worth mentioning occurred during the voyage ; 
hut, on the fifteenth of September, 1799, we 


find the following in his Journal : " The ship, in 
sight yesterday, soon proved to be an Enghsh 
Guineaman. As we came up with him, he fired 
a gun to leward, which we returned. As we 
came nearer, he fired one to windward. We 
returned the compliment, and nearly hulled him. 
When within hail, he ordered our boat out, 
which Captain Prince refused, telling him to 
come on board, if he wanted any thing. Final- 
ly, he requested Captain P. to haul out our boat, 
as his w^as caulking, which we could plainly see. 
Mr. Carlton went on board with the clearance, 
and the surgeon came aboard of us, and, after 
examining our papers and acting in a manner 
becoming a Guineaman, they made sail.'' 

In order to understand this allusion to the 
Guineaman, you should know, that, at the time 
we are reading of, the greater part of English 
merchants, especially those of Liverpool, were 
engaged in the horrid traffic called the Slave 
Trade. Immense numbers of vessels were an- 
nually sent from Liverpool, and other places in 
England, for the sole purpose of sailing to the 
Coast of Africa, there to get a cargo of the poor 
natives, whom they carried to the West-Indian 
Islands and America, in order that they might 


be sold, as slaves, into perpetual bondage. Men, 
women, and children, were taken indiscrimi- 
nately, and crammed together, like bales of cot- 
ton or any other goods, between the decks of 
the vessels. You may imagine, that those who 
could engage in such abominable proceedings 
must have lost all the feelings of humanity. 
They were used to blood and rapine; hence 
you can understand the reason why Mr. Bow- 
ditch uses the term of reproach that he does. I 
thank heaven, and 1 feel sure that you will agree 
with me, that, by the efforts of devoted men 
and women in England and elsewhere, that 
trade has been formally abolished by Great Brit- 
ain ; and that every man who now sets his foot 
on British soil becomes free. We will hope 
that the same beautiful truth may ere long be 
proclaimed through our country, in which, as 
you know, there are now three millions of slaves. 
But, to return to the Astrea. 

On December 17th, they arrived at Bata- 
via, the chief city of the island of Java. The 
following will give you some idea of the place 
and persons in it. 

*' Upon our first arrival, after making our report 
to the customhouse, we proceeded to the Saab- 



andar, who introduced us to the Governor and the 
Governor-General, who is Commander-in-chief^ 
and formerly lived in all the splendor of an 
Asiatic monarch. At present, the outward 
marks of respect are far less than they were 
twenty or thirty years ago. In former times, 
he was attended by his guards, preceded by two 
trumpeters. Every carriage was forced to stop, 
and the persons within obhged to dismount, 
under the penalty of one hundred ducatoons, 

(about $167.) Captain refused even 

to stop his carriage, and forced his coachman to 
drive on. The officers of an English squadron, 
lying at Batavia, in order to show their con- 
tempt of the procession, formed a party similar 
to that attending the Governor, only, instead of 
the aids with their staves, one of the officers 
bore a staff with a cow's horn tipped with gold, 
and another an empty bottle. The rest of the 
officers of the fleet met this procession, and 
made their respects to it, as the natives did to 
the Governor. At present, all these practices 
are brought into contempt, so that none now 
stop for any officers of government." 

The Astrea remained but four days at Bata- 
via, the captain finding that he could not fill his 


vessel with coffee, as he intended. Consequent- 
ly, after taking a fresh supply of provisions and 
of water, they weighed anchor, and bore towards 
the north, with the intention of visiting Manilla, 
as on his second voyage. Traversing the Straits 
of Macassar, they passed slowly up through the 
China Sea, and anchored in Manilla Bay on 
the fourteenth of February, 1800. During this 
passage, we find Mr. Bowditch still occupied 
in the study of science. When floating, be- 
calmed among the islands, amidst the quiet- 
ness of night, he is observing the appearance of 
the planet Jupiter, and studying the motions of 
its beautiful satellites. Doubtless, as he was 
thus occupied, he thought of the immense power 
of that Being who first placed the bright planet 
in its place, and told it to revolve around our 
sun, while its own little satellites, like four 
moons, were to keep it company, silently and 
grandly, in its mysterious course. 

After remaining at Manilla long enough to get 
a cargo, the ship was prepared for home. On 
the twenty-third of March, it sailed ; and, dur- 
ing a passage of six months, very little occurred 
to interrupt iMr. Bowditch's daily labors. It 
arrived on the sixteenth of September, 1800. 
About a fortnight before this, September the 


second, a ship was observed to windward, which 
bore down upon them. By the captain, they 
were informed of the melancholy news (as Mr. 
B. says in his Journal) '' of the death of our 
beloved Washington. Thus," continues he, 
'' has finished the career of that illustrious man, 
that great general, that consummate statesman, 
that elegant waiter, that real patriot, that friend 
to his country and to all mankind ! " This char- 
acter of Washington is true ; but there is one 
point to which Mr. B. makes no allusion, — the 
love of truth displayed by that good man, from 
his earliest years. It was a character which Mr. 
B. must have loved, even if he had not been a 
great statesman and patriot ; for Washington 
was a just man ; and goodness and love of 
truth were always of much more importance, in 
Mr. B.'s opinion, than any greatness. 

During these different voyages, he gained 
more property. Having obtained, likewise, 
what w^as much better, a good report among his 
fellow-citizens, as a man of great learning, per- 
severance, extraordinary skill in the transaction 
of business, and unyielding uprightness, he de- 
termined to remain at home, and he therefore 
bade farewell to the sailor's life, as he supposed, 



[From 1800 to 1803, — aged 27 —30.] 

Second marriage : character of his wife. — Mr. B. engages 
in commerce, for two years. — School committee. — 
East-India Marine Society : a description of the annual 
meeting of this society. — Mr. B. becomes part owner of 
ship Putnam, and sails for India. — Anecdote, occur- 
rence a few days after leaving Salem. — Studies during 
the long voyage. — Begins to study and make notes upon 
La Place's " Mecanique Celeste." — Arrival off Sumatra : 
difficulties there. — Boarded by English man-of-war. — 
Revisits Isle of France. — Journal extracts about modes 
of procuring pepper: seasons for it, &c. — Incident on 
approaching Salem harbor. — Decision of Mr. B. 

On the twenty-eighth of October, 1800, 
Mr. Bowditch married his cousin, Mary Inger- 
soll. She was destined to Hve with him thirty- 
five years, and was the source of much of his 
happiness in hfe. She was a person, in some 
respects, as remarkable as her husband. She 
was possessed of an extraordinary good judg- 
ment, unwearying kindness and love, an elastic 
cheerfulness, which scarcely any thing could 
subdue, and very strong religious feelings. She 
was constantly trying to aid him. Instead of 
seeking for enjoyment in display, she preferred 


economical retirement and great but respect- 
able frugality, in order that her husband might 
pursue more thoroughly and easily his favorite 
studies, and might purchase books of science. 
Instead of collecting beautiful furniture, she 
called her visitors to see the rich new works of 
learning, that her husband had imported from 
foreign lands. Yet, with all this devoted love, 
with all this intense reverence for his talents 
and virtues, she remained his true friend, and 
never shrunk from fully expressing her own 
opinion upon every matter of duty ; and if, per- 
chance, she differed from him, she maintained 
her side of the question with the zeal of a true 
saint. It has been often said, that, had Mr. 
Bowditch been united with a woman of a differ- 
ent temperament, he would have been an en- 
tirely different person. He loved study, it was 
true ; but none enjoyed more than he the de- 
lights of a family circle. None needed more 
than he did the kindness of a wife and children. 
She lived with him thirty-four years, and on 
the seventeenth day of April, 1834, she sunk 
under the disease, consumption, with which 
she had been, suffering for a long time. 


But I am anticipating n)}" story. For two 
years after his arrival from his last voyage, Mr. 
Bowditch remained at home, and engaged as a 
merchant in commerce. We find him generally 
in connection with his old friend, Capt. Prince, 
trying his fortunes by adventures of money sent 
to different parts of the world. He seems to 
have had no intention of ever again returning to 
sea. July fourteenth, 1802, he owned one- 
sixth of a small schooner and its cargo, valued 
at nine hundred and eleven dollars. During 
this long residence in town, his fame had in- 
creased. He had become known among his 
fellow-citizens as an ^' able mathematician." * 
He was therefore appointed to offices of honor 
and trust. He was a member of the school- 
committee of the town. This boy, who had 
been obliged to leave school at the age of ten 
years and three months, was now one to teach 
others. He was Secretary of the East- India 
Marine Society of Salem. This society has 
now one of the most interesting collections of 
East-Indian curiosities that can be found in 
America. The association was composed of 

* From the Manuscript Journal of a gentleman in Salem, 


the most influential men in the town of Salem. 
No one could be enrolled among their number 
unless he had sailed as captain or supercargo of 
a vessel around either Cape Horn or the Cape 
of Good Hope. It was intended as a benevo- 
lent society, for the relief of the famihes of de- 
ceased members ; and also for the promotion of 
the art of navigation. Mr. Bowditch was one 
of its active members. In the early part of this 
century, the society was accustomed, on its days 
of annual meeting, to have a public procession. 
A description of one of these processions may 
not be uninteresting to you. I quote the words 
of an eye-witness of a celebration that occurred 
two years later than the period of which 1 am 
speaking, but the date is unimportant, as the 
ceremony was the same. " January 4th, 1804. 
This day was the annual meeting of the East- 
India Marine Society. As the clergy attend in 
turn, this occasion afforded me an opportunity 
to enjoy the day with them. After business, 
but before dinner, they moved in procession ; 
but the ice limited the distance. Each of the 
brethren bore some Indian curiosity, and the 
palanquin was borne by negroes dressed nearly 
in the Indian manner. A person dressed in 

66 MEMOIR 0^ 

Chinese habits, and masked, passed in front. 
The crowd of spectators was great. Several 
gentlemen were invited to dine. Instrumental 
music was provided in the town, for the first 
time, and consisted of a bass-drum, bassoon, 
clarionet, and flute, and was very acceptable. 
There was no singing." ^ ^ * ^' It is a 
most happy arrangement," continues this writer, 
*^ to deliver all the papers of this company into 
the hands of Mr. Nathaniel Bowditch, lately 
returned from his voyage to India, that they 
may be prepared for public inspection." 

In July, 1802, Mr. Bowditch bought a part 
of a small vessel engaged in a sealing voyage ; 
but he lost by this adventure, half of his invest- 
ment. In September, of the same year, he, 
with three others, bought the new ship Putnam, 
built a short time previously, at Danvers ; and, 
on the twenty -first of November, he sailed as 
master, and owner of one small part of the whole 
ship and cargo, valued at fifty-six thousand dol- 
lars. Though he went in the capacity of cap- 
tain, he was determined to do nothing more than 
direct the course of the ship ; and leave to the 
officers under him all the labor usually expected 
of commanders. He made an agreement with 


two skilful individuals, to take upon themselves 
these duties. He did so, in order that he might 
be enabled to pursue his studies more carefully, 
and without that interruption that must inevit- 
ably have occurred, had he been obliged to 
watch every favorable breeze, or the first appear-* 
ances of the gathering hurricane. But, as we 
shall see, whenever real danger called him to 
duty, he then stood firm, and gave his com- 
mands like one who was satisfied that the time 
required earnestness. A few days after leaving 
the port of Beverly, he was seen walking '^ fore 
and aft " the vessel, with very hurried steps, and 
deeply absorbed, apparently, in the solution of 
some problem. The wind had been blowing 
freshly, for some time ; and, whilst he was med* 
itating, and forgetful of every thing except the 
problem, the mate of the vessel had been hoping 
that he would see the severe squall which was 
coming upon the vessel and was, even then, 
skimming fiercely over the troubled water. He 
feared to suggest to him the importance of 
taking in some of the sails, because the disci- 
pline on board ship prevents an inferior ofiicer 
fi-om interfering with the superior, when the lat- 
ter is on decki At length, aroused by the dan- 


ger of the vessel, he ventured the remark, 
" Captain, would it not be better to take in the 
topgallant sails ? '' These words aroused Mr. 
Bowditch from his reverie, and he instantly or- 
dered all hands to duty ; and fortunately, by his 
activity and energy, was enabled to furl the 
extra sail before the gust struck the vessel. But 
this event taught Mr. B. a lesson ; and he gave 
strict orders to the two officers mentioned above, 
to waive all ceremony with him, and to take 
the command of the ship, whether he was on 
deck or not. This rule was always observed, 
except on difficult occasions ; and then Mr. 
Bowditch assumed the authority of commanding 
officer ; and always, by his calmness and sagac- 
ity, gained the respect and confidence of those 
in employment under him. Before the termi- 
nation of this voyage, we shall see a strong ex- 
ample of this. But now let us proceed on our 
expedition with him, and, again cross the Atlan- 
tic, pass around the Cape of Good Hope to the 
islands of the Indian Ocean. But I should pre- 
mise, that, as he had become more acquainted 
with various mathematical and philosophical pur- 
suits, he had imported from Europe most of the 
great works on these subjects, and he now was 


prepared to devote himself more closely than ever 
to the darling object of his life, the attainment 
of a knowledge in the truths of science. He was 
determinedj on this voyage, to undertake the 
investigation and thorough study of one work 
on the heavens, a book which he had understood 
was above any thing ever before written by 
man, on that subject. Imagine, if you can, the 
zeal and beautiful elevation of feeling with 
which he must have approached this book upon 
a subject that had interested him from earliest 
years. Doubtless, he thought not, then, of the 
fame he was to gain from it. The name of it 
you will like to know. I shall speak of it 
again ; but, meanwhile, I will merely mention 
that it was called, ^^ A Treatise on the Mechan- 
ism of the Heavens," — (Mecanique Celeste,) 
and was written in French, by a mathematician 
named La Place, the greatest scientific man, 
after Newton, of modern times. But this was 
not the only work Mr. Bowditch took with him. 
He had all the most important works which had 
been published on the same subject, they hav- 
ing been imported for him by a bookseller, 
named Blunt, in payment of services rendered. 


These various studies of course influenced his 
Journal. He doubtless was an observer of pass- 
ing events ; but he recorded less of them than on 
the preceding voyages. 

By the first record, it appears, that on 
'^Sunday, November twenty-first, 1802, at one 
o'clock, P/M., sailed from Captain Hill's wharf, 
in Beverly. At two, passed Baker's Island 
lights, with fine and pleasant breeze." This 
fair weather lasted but a few days, and by far 
the greater part of the voyage was uncomforta- 
ble, in consequence of the prevalence of rain 
and wind. On January twenty-fifth, 1803, he 
saw the islands of Tristan d'Acunha ; and, 
whilst coursing along under easy sail, took sev- 
eral observations of them, and made a chart of 
their various positions. 

On the second of May, he arrived among the 
Pepper Islands, near the coast of Sumatra. He 
found several American captains there, all ac- 
tively engaged in loading their vessels with pep- 
per. He had considerable difficulty in making 
any arrangement with the Rajahs of different 
places ; but at length, having touched without 
success at several ports, he began to load at 
Tally-poo, on the ninth of May. There he 


continued until the eighteenth of July, when, 
by his Journal, it appears that, having wasted a 
number of days, expecting that more pepper 
would be brought to the shore, he was informed 
by the Rajah he would not be allowed any 
more. Knowing that he should meet with 
equal trouble at every place on the coast, he 
concluded to quit it, and call at the Isle of 
France, on his homeward passage. During 
their voyage, amid the various shoals and islands 
which abound here, they met with no inconve- 
nience and no interruption, save that they an- 
chored once or twice, toward night, and, on the 
twenty-fifth of July, were obliged to heave to, 
under the fire of two English ships of war, one 
named the Royal George, the commander of 
which took the liberty of searching, for the pur- 
pose of seeing whether there were any English- 
men on board. The officer, however, was very 
polite, and the Putnam soon resumed its course ; 
and, in seventy-two hours more, was on the open 
sea, under full sail, with the aid of the steady 
trade-winds of that place and season. On the 
twenty -fourth of August, the voyager was in 
sight of the Isle of France. He there met 
his old friend Bonnefoy, whom he had left 


there on his first voyas^e m 1795. and like- 
wise many American friends. After purchasing 
some bags of pepper, and taking on board some 
proTisions, which employed his time for low: cays, 
he sailed for the last time, from anv ort, 

on Wednesday, August Slst, 1803. 1 ne voyage 
homeward was very disagreeable, in consequence 
of much severe weather. Nothing remarkable 
happened to enliven the scene ; but Air. Bow- 
ditch disregarded the storms i v v^;; ; his 
mind was calm and tranquil. ily 

occupied with his " peaceful matiiemaiic s . ' He 
wrote in his Journal but sek- ^ T hre is. 
however, the following accour P pper 

Islands. ^^ There are several native ports on 
the northwestern coast of S-: r:^::^ ^ ^^q 

Americans ti*ade for pepp-r . — A - oso, 

Tangar, Tally- Poo, Muckie. kc. : and several 
sm^.llr- : /^. !- _' "': \ :^ ^ . "" f the 
coa-:. ' ' ^ _ _ _- 

contract with the D . . . and fix 

the price. I:' 

port, the per . -: - 

is shared betwcr:. " rv r::i ^_:ee; or 

they 'a"-:- i: day by day, al:ei..-;:v'y. >^ 
the Daico contracts to load oi^e vcs-c. ._:'.. j 


any other one takes any^ and he holds to his 
agreement, a5 long as he finds it for his inter- 
est, and no longer ; for a handsome present, or 
an increase in the price, will prevent any more 
pepper from being brought in for several days ; 
and the person who has made the agreement 
must either quit the port, or offer an additional 

*^ The pepper season commences in January, 
when they begin to take from the vines the small 
kernels at the bottom. In March, April, and 
May, is the height of the crop, at which time 
the pepper taken from the top of the vines is 
larger and more solid than that gathered at an 
earlier period ; many suppose that the pepper is 
all gathered in May ; but I was in some of the 
gardens in July, and found at the top of the vines 
large quantities, which would be ripe in a few 
days. The young crop was in considerable for- 
wardness at the bottom of the vines. Some 
calculate on two crops ; but, from the best infor- 
mation I could procure, there is only one. 

^^ The pepper is generally weighed with 
American scales and weights, one hundred and 
thirty-three and a third pounds to a pecciil. 
What is weighed each day is paid for in the 


evening ; they (the natives) not being willing to 
tr«st their property in the hands of those they 
deal with. And they ought to be dealt with in 
the same manner ; it not being prudent to pay 
in advance to the Datoo, as it would be often 
difficult to get either the pepper or the money 
again from him. Spanish dollars are the current 
coin, but they do not take halves or quarters. 
They have a pang, or piece, of which we could 
get but eighty for a dollar at Tally-Poo, though 
at other places they give one hundred or one 
hundred and twenty for the same." 

During the whole voyage, as I have already 
stated, the weather had been very uncomfortable, 
The approach to the American coast is at all 
times hazardous, during the winter. The bold 
and rough shore, the intense cold and severe 
snow-storms, which make the day shorter even 
than common, are so many terrors for the sailor. 
You may judge of the sadness of the crew of 
the Putnam, when, after a tedious absence of 
more than a year, they at length, towards the 
middle of December, 1803, came near the shoal 
grounds off Massachusetts, by Nantucket. The 
sleet and rain had been driving over tlie ocean 
wave for many days. No sun appeared to guide 


them by day ; no star illuminated the night. 
Groping, as it were, in darkness, they coasted 
along up the shore, yet not within sight of it, 
now throwing their sounding line upon Nan- 
tucket, and soon afterwards upon George's 
Shoal. There seemed no end to the storm. 
At length, on the twenty-fifth of December, 
they had approached, according to Mr. Bow- 
ditch's reckoning, from observation made two 
days before, near to the outer part of Salem 
harbor. The night was fast closing in. Mr. 
Bowditch was observed to be on deck, anxious- 
ly looking towards the bow of the vessel, as if 
in order to see something that would cheer the 
scene. With clear, decided tones, he gave his 
orders. The seamen saw, and obeyed in silence. 
^* There is something in the wind," whispered 
one ; *' the old man^ is above." '^ Stand every 
man at his post," is the command ; '' and look 
out for land ahead." The fierce gusts of wind 
swept over Massachusetts Bay, bearing the ves- 
sel irresistibly onwards ; the snow-storm increas- 
ed, and at every moment the darkness increased. 
At length, for one moment, the clouds of drifting 

* An expression, of which sailors make use, when speak- 
ing of the captain of the vessel. 


snow-flakes parted, and Mr. Bowditch, with his 
mate, who were watching, saw distinctly the 
light of Baker's Island. '' Light, ho ! on the 
larboard bow," was passed from one to the other, 
on board that ship, in which were many almost 
breathless with suspense. It was but for a mo- 
ment, and again all was obscured. ^' I am 
right," said Mr. B. ; ^' the direction in which 
we are now steering will lead us soon into Salem 
Harbor." His prediction was fulfilled. It was 
an extraordinary proof of his skill in navigation. 
He had had no opportunity for observing the sun 
or moon for two or three days, yet, so accurately 
had he marked bis position in the ocean, at the last 
time of observing, that, by steering in the direction 
pointed out by the chart, and observing the rate 
at which the vessel moved, he was able to calcu- 
late so exactly, that, after seventy-two hours of 
darkness, as it were, he came up to the light as 
easily as if he had been steering always in open 
day, with the object distinctly in view. The 
old tars could not restrain their expressions of 
admiration ; and as, at nine o'clock in the eve- 
ning, they dropped anchor in safety from the 
gale that was now beating with ten-fold violence 
outside of the island, they whispered with one 
another, so that he overheard them, **The old 


man has clone well, to-night." It was the 
twenty-fifth of December, and, throughout 
Christendom, the festival in commemoration of 
the birth of the Saviour had been celebrated, 
and friends had all been gathered. Sadness 
marked their countenances at one home, from 
which the husband and friend was absent, and 
had been long expected. As the blasts beat 
through the streets, and as the family clustered 
around the bright shining fire upon the hearth- 
stone ; as the wind whistled through the case- 
ment, the thoughts of the wife were turned from 
the fireside to the rough ocean on which her hus- 
band was tempest tossed. Many weary weeks 
had she watched ; but, day after day, had the 
sun gone down, and, like Rachel, she could not 
be comforted. She feared that he was lost. 
One after another of her friends had left her, 
late at night, and, finally, she was alone. Sud- 
denly, she springs up from her seat, aroused by 
the sound of quick knocking at the street door. 
She recognises the tap, and in a few moments 
she is hanging on his neck, from whom she was 
destined never to be long separated, until death 
removed her from him for four years ; at the end 
of which time, he was placed by death in quiet- 
ness at her side. 



Review of the labors, &c., performed by Mr. Bowditch, 
during these voyages. — Habits w^hile at sea : studies : 
desire to teach others: kindness to sailors, and to the 
sick. — Discovers errors in a book on Navigation. — 
Origin of " American Practical Navigator : " success of 
it : industry of I^Ir. B. upon it. — Investigates higher 
branches of sciehce : — " Mecanique Celeste." — Mr. 
B. reads history. — Learns Spanish, French, and Portu- 
guese languages. — Anecdotes. — Chosen member of 
American Academy. — Receives honors from Harvard 

Thus finished Mr. Bowditch's career as a 
sailor, having been, about eight years, engaged 
in this pursuit. But let us now review a little, 
and see what he was doing, during these voy- 
ages, and how he occupied his time. He was 
very regular in his habits. During the first two 
voyages, he attended to the duties of mate of 
the vessel, and stood his watches. This, of 
course, prevented him from studying as much 
as he otherwise would have done. He, more- 
over, as we have seen, took fewer books with 
him. But, during the next two voyages, the 
Captain excused him from the watches, and he 
was able to read without the smallest interrup- 
tion. After the deck had been washed in the 


morning, he walked for half an hour ; he then 
went into the cabin to study, until the time 
arrived at which he was to observe the sun, 
which is done in order to tell whereabouts in 
the ocean a vessel is. Having finished this, he 
usually dined. After this, he slept a few mo- 
ments, or took a walk, and then studied again 
until tea-time. After supper, he was again at 
work until nine, when he used to walk for some 
time, cheerfully talking with his comrades. Af- 
ter this, he usually labored until late at night ; 
and, in order not to disturb his fellow-passengers, 
he did not keep a light in the cabin, but fre- 
quently stood upon the cabin stairway, reading 
by the light of the binnacle lamp, where the 
compass was kept. Whenever the vessel arriv- 
ed at a port, he was still engaged, but in a dif- 
ferent way, perhaps. The instant he was freed 
from the duties of weighing pepper on the coast 
of Sumatra, he went to his books* No time was 
wasted, either in foul or fair weather. It made 
no difference to him, whether the ship was rest- 
ing motionless upon the water, or tossing upon 
the heaviest swell, he was always a worker. 
But there was yet another and more beautiful 
trait still, in his character. He not merely loved 


study^ himself, but he was determined to per- 
suade all others to love it^ also. During his 
first voyage, he used to go to the forecastle, or 
sailor's cabin, and carry his books of Navigation, 
and teach them how to guide a ship by the rules 
found in these books. He then went on deck, 
and explained to each one the method of using 
the quadrant and sextant, two instruments used 
by a sea-captain. There is an old man now 
living in Salem, who, when speaking of this dis- 
position of Mr. Bowditch, said, '^ 1 was the 
steward on board the vessel, and Mr. Bowditch 
frequently scolded me, because I did not come 
to study with him more steadily." It is a fact, 
that every sailor on board the ship, during that 
voyage, became afterwards captain, and probably 
some of them would never have risen so high, 
had it not been for the kindness of their friend. 
I love to think of this trait in his character. He 
delighted in learning, for its own sake, and he 
was always pleased when he could find some 
one upon whom he could bestow all his acquire- 
ments. He had no mean standard of compari- 
son between himself and his fellows, but desired 
to give and receive as much good as it was pos- 
sible for him to bestow or accept.* 


He was beloved for this by all ; but his kind- 
ness of heart led him not merely to teach those 
who knew less than he, but he was wont to seek 
them, when sick, in order to relieve them. One 
of them, who lately died,- wrote in a letter, after 
alluding to his willingness to teach others, '^ But 
the kindness and attention to the poor sea-sick 
cabin-boy are to this day (April, 1838,) upper- 
most in my memory, and will last, when his 
learning is remembered no more." How bright 
were his talents and love of study, how beauti- 
ful his devotion to others' comfort and improve- 
ment ! He might have been as learned, without 
displaying this regard for others. But he would 
not then have had such tributes of love, as was 
displayed by this old sailor, who remembered 
his kindness rather than his instruction. 

But let us examine his particular studies, pur- 
sued while at sea. We have already seen, that, 
from a boy, he had loved simple arithmetic, and 
on becoming older, had studied deeply in math- 
ematics, a kind of learning similar in character 
to arithmetic, only much more difficult and im- 
portant. During the long voyages to India, he 
had ample opportunity for following this branch 
of science ; consequently, we find that he was 


chiefly occupied with that subject. On the 
first voyage, he discovered many errors in a 
book on Navigation, some of w hlch were so im- 
portant, that, by their means, not a few vessels 
had been shipwrecked. This erroneous work 
was originally published in London, by a man 
named Hamilton Moore, and it was almost ex- 
clusively used by seamen. It had been repub- 
lished in America, in 1793, by ^Ir. Blunt, then 
living in Newburyport. One edition was pub- 
lished, and a second was about to be issued, in 
1799, when Mr. Blunt learned, by means of a 
mutual friend, that Mr. Bowditch, during his 
two first voyages, had detected many of these 
errors, and was willing to inform him of them. 
Mr. Blunt immediately made application to the 
young navigator, and received the assistance he 
wanted. Finding that Mr. Bowditch had with- 
in him the means of rendering essential service, 
Mr. Blunt proposed to him, when starting on 
his fourth voyage, that is, to India, to exam^ine 
all the tables, and see what number of errors he 
could find. Mr. Bowditch agreed to the propo- 
sal ; and, during this voyage, his time was much 
occupied with this task ; a very wearisome, but, 
as it proved eventually, a profitable one, as it 


regards reputation and pecuniary success. The 
mistakes were so numerous, that he found it 
much easier to make a new work, and introduce 
therein his own improvements ; so that Mr. B., 
before the termination of the voyage, decided 
to make some arrangement for this purpose. 
The consequence was, that, instead of pubhsh- 
ing a third edition of Moore's Navigator, in 1802, 
the first edition of the ^^ American Practical 
Navigator" was pubhshed by Mr. Bowditch, 
under his own name, Mr. Blunt being proprie- 
tor. Thus was laid, at the age of twenty-nine, 
the foundation of a work on navigation, that has 
kept constantly before the public, as one of the 
best of the kind either in America or England. 
It passed through its tenth edition a short time 
before Mr. Bowditch's death. Upwards of 
thirty thousand copies have been published 
since its commencement. It soon superseded 
entirely Mr. Moore's, and was early republish- 
ed in London. And it was not only obtained 
by every American seaman, but even English 
ships sought for Bowditch's Navigator, as their 
safety during their long voyages. Many amus- 
ing anecdotes are related, in reference to this 
book. An American captain once took passage 


in an English ship, from the Isle of France, for 
St. Helena, After being a few days out, the 
passenger, about noon, brought on deck his 
*^ Navigator" (one of Bowditch's editions) for 
the purpose of using it. While thus engaged, 
the English captain of the vessel walked up, and 
looked at the work. '^ Why," says he, " you 
use the same work that we do. Pray, where 
did you get that ? " And great was the sur- 
prise of the Englishman, when he learned that 
the author of the book, he was using every day 
of his life, was the near neighbor and friend of 
the person he was talking with. Little did h^ 
imagine that he was dependent upon the efforts 
of a simple son of an American cooper, for the 
information by which he was enabled to go from 
sea to sea, in comparative safety. But how is 
it, that this work has been able to remain so 
long one of the best works of the kind ? Because 
Mr. Bowditch bestowed intense pains upon it, 
and with every new edition made all the im- 
provements possible. He moreover brought all 
his learning to bear upon it. In the explana- 
tions of the rules, he was simple, so that the 
most ignorant could understand them. But, in 
addition to all this, as we have already stated, 


he introduced all the new methods which he 
himself had discovered. One of these was fa- 
vorably noticed by a celebrated French astron- 
omer, in a Journal published in 1808. 

But, although his attention was much devoted 
to this book on navigation, he evidently consid- 
ered it as of little moment, compared with 
higher objects. During the long voyages, he 
had been studying the higher branches of knowl- 
edge, the difficult calculations of the ncjotions of 
the heavenly bodies. The deep love he had for 
these pursuits had a most pleasing eSect upon 
him. If he were sad or disturbed, he sought 
quiet and cheerfulness in " his peaceful mathe- 
matics." As arithmetic had been the darling 
pursuit of his boyhood, so now the curious and 
intricate problems of mathematics, or sublime 
theories of the planets, occupied his best leisure 
hours. We have seen that, lono; before ffoino; to 
sea, he studied French, for the purpose of read- 
ing a work on mathematics. He continued to 
read with much interest the works of that coun- 
try. Some of you may know, that about the 
close of the last century, at the Rev^olution in 
France, all the nation was aroused, every branch 
of learning and of art received new life. The 


consequence was, that a vast many men of the 
highest genius arose, and, patronised by govern- 
ment, they put forth to the world extraordinary 
works of learning. Most of these, when upon 
astronomy, ]\Ir. Bowditch procured for himself, 
by means of the publisher of the '^ Navigator." 
He was still eno^ao-ed in extracting fromi various 
works, or, in other words, in filling up his vol- 
umes of manuscripts, though now, from the in- 
crease of his property, he was enabled to buy 
the originals ; and of course, his manuscripts 
were chiefly his sea journals, and the notes 
made by himself upon the various authors he 
read. But he did not confine himself entirely 
to science. He read history, and some works 
of a literary character ; although he never spent 
m^uch time upon inferior books. " Why read 
anything you cannot speak of?" he used fre- 
quently to say. He likewise studied the Span- 
ish, Italian, and Portuonese lano;uaoes. 

His mode of learning languages is instructive. 
As soon as he determined to study one, he 
bought a Bible, grammar, and dictionary, in 
that tongue. After learning a few of the pro- 
nouns and auxiliary verbs, he began to translate, 
and usually commenced with the first chapter of 


the Gospel of St. John, because in the few first 
verses there are many repetitions. Having 
studied them thoroughly, he proceeded to other 
portions of the Bible, with which he was most 
acquainted. When at hom.e, he always carried 
the Bible to church, and used it instead of an 
Endish one, durino; the services. But he had 
another plan, which is very useful to one who 
has a bad memory. I will now explain to you 
one of his vocabularies, or collections of v, ords 
with their meanings attached thereto, so arrang- 
ed, that he could refer much more easily to 
them than to a common dictionary. Although 
he did not learn German until a long time after 
the period of his life which we are now speak- 
ing of, still, as the Genxian vocabulary is the 
most perfect, I will describe it. It is made 
upon two large sheets, one foot broad and more 
than a foot and a half high, which, with the in- 
side of the covers, make six pages. The pages 
are divided into columns, about one and a half 
inches wide ; that is, large enough to admit, in 
very small writing, a word with its signification 
by its side. Of course, the columns are divided 
for the letters of the alphabet in a manner pro- 
portioned to the number of pages of each letter 


in the dictionary. Having thus prepared his 
book, whenever he found that he was obhged 
(for want of memory) to look at the dictionary 
more than once for the signification of a word, 
he wrote it in his vocabulary ; and, by the 
act of writing, strengthened, in some measure, 
his mem.ory of that word, and moreover, he 
could turn to it immediately, and not lose time 
in turning over the leaves of a larger book. The 
number of words thus seen at a glance, as it 
were, is remarkable. In the above-described 
six pages, there are eleven thousand German 
words, all written distinctly, but in small letters, 
and without any repetitions, and with as many 
abbreviations as he himself chose. I have been 
thus minute upon this subject, not because I 
think that all ought to make vocabularies, but 
because some may be benefited, some, for in- 
stance, who have bad memories. Moreover, I 
wished to speak to you of them, as marks of his 

Two important events took place during this 
period of Mr. Bowditch's life, which it becomes 
our duty to record. On the twenty- eighth day 
of May, 1799, he was chosen a member of the 
American Academy of Arts and Sciences. 


This Society was the first which bestowed upon 
him the honor of membership of its body. It 
is composed of men of science, combined for 
the purpose of improving themselves and the 
community in knowledge. He continued a 
member of this body during his hfe ; and, sub- 
sequently, in May, 18*29, just thirty years after 
becoming a member, he was chosen its Presi- 
dent, in which ofSce he was continued until the 
day of his death. 

Another honor, and one which was more 
pleasant to him than any received at any time 
afterwards, was bestowed during this period. 
In 1802, his ship was wind-bound in Boston, 
and he left it, for the purpose of attending the 
annual commencement at Cambridge College. 
He knew but few individuals there, though he 
had corresponded with some of the Professors ; 
and one of the Corporation of the College, Chief 
Justice Parsons, was one of his kindest friends. 
He went alone, and, while listening in the 
crowd to the names of those upon whom the 
honors were conferred, he thought he heard his 
own pronounced, but he supposed that he might 
have been mistaken, inasmuch as the notice was 
given in Latin. But how great was his emotion, 


when he heard from a friend that his suspicions 
were well founded ! It was to him the proudest 
day of his life. And we, who know his humble 
origin, his simphcity and modesty, can in some 
measure understand the thrill of pleasure that ^ 
must have run through him, when he found him- 
self thus noticed by the first and oldest Univer- 
sity in the land. And why was he thus noticed ? 
Because he had well improved the hours of his 
life ; because his days and nights had been spent 
in activity and earnest study. In after-life, 
when his fame was established, and the great 
societies of Europe all bestowed upon him their 
diplomas, he always looked upon them as of 
small moment, compared with this his first, 
earliest proof of esteem from his fellow-men. 

Having now completed his sea-life, let us 
enter upon his new scene of energy and benevo- 
lence, as a citizen and father ; and our next 
chapter will include several years of his life in 



[From 1803 to 1817 — aged 30 — 44.] 

Mr. B. translates a Spanish paper : is chosen President of 
a Fire and Marine Insurance Office. — Habits of life. — 
Becomes interested in poUtics. — Federalists and Demo- 
crats. — Great excitement. — Division between him and 
old friends, in consequence of zeal. — Feelings of Mr. 
B,, when war was declared. — Decision of character. — 
— His charity. — Earnestness in aiding others : ludi- 
crous instance of the effects of this. — Boldness towards 
a truckman. — Zeal for improving the libraries : unites 
the two. — Dr. Prince's church. — Performance of du- 
ties of President of Insurance Office. — Answer to an 
overbearing rich man. — Appointed Professor of Mathe- 
matics at Harvard College : same at West Point. — His 
modesty. — Hints about leaving Salem. 

Mr. Bowditch, on his arrival from sea, 
met with one of those events to which he always 
referred, when any one doubted the expediency 
of any kind of knowledge. In his voyages to 
Portugal and Spain, he had become acquainted 
with the Spanish language. It so happened, 
that no one else in Salem was acquainted with 
it ; and an important paper came to the care of 
a sturdy and sensible old sea-captain, but it was 
unfortunately unintelligible to him, for it was 
written in this same unknown tongue. A friend 
suggested to him that probably Mr. Bowditch 


would decipher it for him. The document was 
handed to Mr. Bowditch, who in a few days 
returned it with a free Enghsh translation ac- 
companying it. The old sailor was delighted, 
and immediately supposed that any one who 
knew so much about a foreio;n lano-uao-e must be 
a very superior person, and capable of perform- 
ing any duties. Moreover, he was delighted 
with the apparent generosity of Mr. Bowditch, 
in makino; the translation without charo;e to his 
employer. It happened at this time, that an 
Insurance Office in Salem was in need of a 
President. The Captain was one of the direc- 
tors of this Institution, and immediately used all 
his influence in promoting the election of his 
young friend. This influence succeeded, and, 
in 1804, we find Mr. Bowditch installed as 
President of the Essex Fire and Marine Insur- 
ance Company. In this office he continued, 
with entire success, until 1823, when he re- 
moved to Boston, and took charge of other 
similar but much larger institutions. The relief 
was great, which he experienced from not being 
obliged to seek subsistence for his family by en- 
p-ao-ino; in the sailor's life. The duties of the 

too o 

office in which he now engaged seemed to oc- 


cupy all his lime, yet he still did not neglect 
science. He arose at six in the morning , during 
the year ; and took a walk, either before or after 
breakfast, of at least two miles. At nine o'clock 
he went to the office, and there he continued 
until one. After another walk, he dined, and, 
after a short sleep, he again visited his office 
until tea-time. From tea-time until nine in the 
evening, he was at his duties, and amid busi- 
ness. Now, it is very certam that he was not 
all the time, during office hours, actually engaged 
in business, but he was constantly liable to inter- 
ruption, as much as he had been when an 
apprentice. Yet he found leisure enough for 
study, by early rising and regular habits. He 
used to say, '^ Before nine o'clock in the morn- 
ing, 1 learned all my mathematics.'' He kept 
some of his books on philosophy at his office, 
and, whenever a moment of leisure recurred, he 
was busily occupied in science. At home, he 
had no private room for many years ; and, as 
his family of young children grew up around 
him, he studied at his simple pine desk, in the 
midst of their noise and play. He was never 
disturbed, except when they failed in kindness 
to one another, and then he could never con- 


tinue to study until quiet was restored. In 
truth, the influence of his studies was felt by 
his children, whose greatest reward was to re- 
ceive from him, in token of his approbation, the 
drawings of various constellations upon their 
arras or forehead. It was a sad day for them, 
when they did not receive from his pen the rep- 
resentation of the Belt of Orion, or of some 
other beautiful appearance in the heavens. 

But, in addition to the duties of his office, he 
had began to be interested in the political affairs 
of the day. After the Revolution, and the new 
government of the country went into operation 
under the Presidency of General Washington, 
there had been but little political excitement in 
Essex county. There were no great parties, 
which were destined soon afterwards to spring 
up, and excite the bitterest animosity between 
individuals who had been from birth the warm- 
est friends. It \vOuld be impossible, were it use- 
ful, to tell all the causes that led to the formation 
of the two great sects in politics, called the Fed- 
eralists and Republicans. Suffice it to say, that 
even during Washington's connexion with the 
government, the seeds of this division were be- 
ginning to spring up ; and, upon the accession 


of Mr. Adams, the father of John Quincy 
Adams who is now living, the rancor increased 
with tenfold energy, until at length the Repub- 
lican party triumphed in the election of Thomas 
Jefferson to the office of President of the United 
States. In Salem, the violence of party spirit 
rose as high as in any city of the Union. It 
would have been surprising, with his desire for 
aiding any public cause, if Mr. Bowditch had 
not been influenced by the excitements of the 
day. He was much interested in them ; and, 
in the note-books upon science, we find fre- 
quently brief memoranda of the results of an 
election at the bottom of a page, or at the end 
of some theorem. He was moreover, for two 
years, a member of the State Council. He was 
likewise proposed by the Federalists as a repre- 
sentative to the General Court, but at that elec- 
tion they were defeated. 

We have scarcely any idea of the rancor 
with which the two parties contended. Persons 
wdio had been, during life, sincere and devoted 
friends, were separated by this virulence. Mr. 
Bowditch suffered as much as others, on this 
account, and two of his longest and best-tried 
friends he did not have any intercourse with, for 


many years. Dr. Bentley and Captain Prince 
were these persons, and with both of them you 
are already acquainted. It was not until 1817, 
when President Monroe visited these northern 
States, that harmony was restored between the 
two great divisions, and friends once more em- 
braced each other. But, in the midst of all 
this excitement with politics, Mr. Bowditch 
never neglected the duties of his office, or the 
study of science. In fact, the pursuit of learning 
had, as before, a sweet influence over his char- 
acter. It still made him calm and serene. An 
illustration of this you may find in what follows. 
In 1812, after a long series of supposed insults 
and wrongs from Great Britain, the American 
government declared war against that power. 
Mr. Bowditch was completely overcome by the 
news, and for tw^o days was so much distressed, 
that he was unable to study. Friends who 
knew him had never seen him look so saddened 
before, on any public emergency. He could 
speak of nothing but the disasters that he fore- 
saw war would entail upon his country. On the 
morning of the third day, he arose, and, descend- 
ing into the parlor, said to his wife, ''It won't 
do for me to continue thus. I will not think any 


more about it.'' 'Saying this, he retired again 
to his books. Tiie difference in his wliole man- 
ner was very perceptible. He rarely afterward 
allowed himself to be disturbed by the unfortu- 
nate state of affairs ; and, amid the placid 
thoughts excited in him by science, he found 
certain rest. Such should be the benign influ- 
ence of study upon every one. 

Amid all these various engagements, he was 
full of sympathy for others. Wherever he saw 
he could aid with his counsel, he did so; and 
many widows and orphans have felt the influ- 
ence of his charity. This charity showed itself 
chiefly in a desire to improve others. There 
was scarcely one of those connected with him^ 
in friendship, upon whom he did not devote some 
lime for their instruction. To one young lady 
he taught French, and another studied Italian 
with him. If a young man needed funds, he 
knew upon whom he could call with a certainty 
of substantial aid ; for throughout life, it was one 
of the remarkable attributes of Pvlr. Bowditch's 
character, that he could persuade many to open 
their hearts to the poor, who, upon other occa* 
sions, were deaf to the common feelings of hu^ 
manity. For one young person of this kind) 


Mr. B. obtained a subscription sufficient to 
enable him to continue at the university, whereas 
his young friend would have been unable to da 
so, without assistance. He was always so zeal- 
ous in these undertakings, that no one felt under 
any obligations to him. It was his delight to 
help, and every one saw that his heart was en- 
gaged in the cause. His zeal for humanity was 
at times immoderate, and the followino; lauohable 
law case occurred in consequence of it. One 
day, he was informed that a little girl who 
lived with him had been run over by some 
careless driver, and a crowd, w^iich he could 
perceive at a little distance from him, was a col- 
lection of individuals drawn together on her 
account. He immediately ran forward, and get- 
ting to the outside of the circle, began very 
energetically to make his way into it. In doing 
so, he pulled one of the bystanders so forcibly, 
that the individual, as it will appear in the sequel, 
was offended. Arriving, however, by dint of 
hard pushing, at the object of his search, he took 
his little domestic with him, and guided her safe- 
ly home. On the next day, he was much sur- 
prised at receiving a summons from a justice of 
the peace, to appear before him, to answer to 


the charge of assault and battery upon the indi- 
vidual above-mentioned. He answered the call, 
and paid his fine of a few dollars ; but the judge, 
who had been notorious for always making both 
parties suffer, when it was possible for himself to 
gain thereby, said, on receiving the fine, '' But 

you say that Mr. pushed you, after you 

had pulled him." '' I did sir." '' Very well, 
then if you wish to complain of him, I will fine 
him, likewise." The ludicrous nature of the 
whole action struck Mr. Bowditch so forcibly, 
that he was not unwilling to increase the folly of 
it. The plaintiff was then fined, and the affair 
was ended. It is but right to say, that the judge 
was considered, previous to this, one entirely 
unfit for the office. Probably no other would 
have issued a summons on such an occasion ; 
and the plaintiff was not unjustly punished for 
having called upon such a person to aid him in 
prosecuting an individual w4io, in exerting him- 
self to help another, had slightly disarranged the 
dress of a bystander. 

Mr. Bowditch's desire to aid the unfortunate 
was exhibited on another occasion, when a poor, 
overladen horse was the object of his commisera- 
tion. A truckman had been violently beating 


the animal, in order to induce him to pull along 
a very heavy load, which was too large for his 
strength. Mr. B. had watched the driver for 
some time, and at length he ran vehemently for- 
ward, and in abrupt and decided tones ordered 
him to desist. The truckman was much supe- 
rior to Mr. Bowditch in personal strength, and 
was, at first, disposed to ridicule the attempt of 
his inferior to restrain him. Full of indigna- 
tion, Mr. B. exclaimed, " If you dare touch 
that horse again, and if you do not immediately 
go and get another to assist him, I will appeal 
to the law, and you will see which of us two 
will conquer." The man yielded, and Mr. B. 
passed away. 

The public institutions of the town all felt his 
influence. The East-India Marine Society, of 
which 1 have already spoken, improved very 
much under his auspices, as President. It had 
fallen considerably during high political times, 
and, w^hen he w^as chosen chief officer, he in- 
stilled such zeal among the younger members 
of it, and obtained so many new members that 
it revived, and, soon after his removal to Bos- 
ton, the splendid hall was erected, containing 


the most remarkable collection of East-India 
curiosities, of which I spoke in chapter sixth. 

The libraries he had always felt very much 
interested in. You already know what reason 
he had for being devoted to the Philosophical 
Library, for from it he drew most of his knowl- 
edge of science. But there was another, which 
had been in existence much longer than this, 
called the Social Library. The books contained 
in these two collections were almost wholly dis- 
tinct in their characters. In one, only works of 
science were to be found ; while the other was 
chiefly devoted to literature. Mr. Bowditch saw 
that both of them united would be of great ser- 
vice to the community ; for it would not merely 
combine the books, but the energies of the pro- 
prietors. Consequently, it appears that he, with 
another of the Philosophical Library proprietors, 
^vas chosen a committee for the purpose of pro- 
viding for a union. This was happily effected, 
1810; and the Salem Athenaeum arose from 
the combination. The rooms over his office 
were chosen as the place for their deposit ; and 
for many years, he was one of the most active 
of the Trustees. 


There was another institution, with which he 
was intimately connected during the whole of 
the time he lived in Salem ; I allude to the 
church in which his early friend, Rev. Dr. 
Prince, officiated. He was one of the commit- 
tee of the parish ; and, though never a member 
of the church, strictly so called, he was a con- 
stant attendant upon the services, and had great 
influence in keeping up the harmony and sup- 
porting the true dignity of the congregation. 

In the performance of his duties as President 
of the Insurance Company, he was ever faithful 
and true. His desire was, to know the truth 
and to act up to it. He was frequently placed 
in circumstances which required great decision. 
At times, a disposition was shown to deceive 
him ; at others, a simJlar one was shown by a 
richer stockholder to gain advantages over a 
poorer one. I well remember an anecdote in 
which it is said a purse-proud rich man strove to 
browbeat him into doing an act which Mr. B. 
thought would be unjust to another poorer one. 
The nabob pleaded his riches, and amount of 
stock, and intimated that he would have his 
way. '^ No, sir, you won't. I stand here in 
this place to see justice done, and, as long as I 


am here, I will defend the weak." He seldom 
met with difficulties of this kind, for few dared 
approach him with the intention to be unjust or 
untrue. Nothing aroused him so much to an 
aJmost lion fierceness, as any appearance of 
wickedness in the transaction of public business. 
He had much wisdom likewise in the selection 
of risks, so that the office, while under his con- 
trol, succeeded admirably, and he left it pros- 

During his residence in Salem, he was fre- 
quently invited to seats of honor and trust. We 
have already mentioned his political course. In 
1806, by the agency of Chief Justice Parsons, 
then in the Corporation of Harvard College, he 
was appointed Prcfessor of Mathematics in that 
University. In 1818, he was requested by 
President Jefferson, in very flattering terms, to 
accept of a similar office in the University of 
Virginia. In 1820, he was called upon by the 
Secretary of War of the United States, to con- 
sent to an appointment at the Public Military 
School at West Point. All of these he refused, 
as not congenial to his mind. He always de- 
clined talking in public. He would teach all 
who came to him, but he could not deliver a 


public course of lectures. His extreme modesty 
prevented. For it will be remembered, that he 
was as remarkable, from his youth, for his mod- 
esty, amounting, in early life, to diffidence, as 
he was for his other qualities. Moreover, it 
should be stated that, at times, he had a certain 
hesitation in his mode of speaking, which prob- 
ably would have prevented him from addressing 
easily a public audience. 

In 181S, he was urged to take charge of an 
Insurance Office in Boston, but he preferred liv- 
ing in his native place. 



[From 1803 to 1823, — aged 30 — 50.] 

Papers published by Mr. B. in the Memoirs of the Acad- 
emy : account otsome of them. — Total eclipse of the sun 
in 1808 : effect of it. — Anecdote of Chief Justice Par- 
sons. — Meteor that fell over Weston, Ct. : account of its 
curious appearance : effect of these papers upon his fame 
in Europe. — Chosen member of most of the learned 
societies of the Old World. ~ Quits Salem, to become 
connected with larger institutions in Boston. 

It should be remembered, that, during these 
stormy political times, Mr. Bowditch was chiefly 
engaged in making his notes on the great work 
to which we have already alluded, La Place's 
" Mecanique Celeste ; " and that it was between 
the years 1800 and 1820, that is, during this 
same time, that he wrote twenty-three papers, 
which were published in the Memoirs of the 
American Academy of Arts and Sciences. Of 
some of these last, 1 will give you an account. 
Of the others, were I to mention them, you 
could understand but little. They relate chief- 
ly to observations made upon the moon ; the 
comets of 1807 and 1811 ; the eclipses of the 
sun, which took place in 1S06 and 1811 ; meas- 


urements of the height of the White Mountains 
in New Hampshire ; observations on the com- 
pass ; on a pendulum supported by two points ; 
and the correction of some mistakes in one of 
the books studied first by him in early life, 
called Newton's ^^ Principia." A few of these 
papers I will, in some measure, explain to you. 
I commence with his observation upon a total 
eclipse of the sun, which occurred June 16, 
1806. I shall quote nearly the words of the 
observer. '^ On the day of the eclipse, the 
weather was remarkably fine, scarcely a cloud 
being visible in any part of the heavens. I 
made preparations for the observations in the 
garden adjoining the house in which I reside, 
near the northern part of Summer street, in 
Salem. Having been disappointed in procuring 
a telescope of a large magnifying power, I was 
obliged to make use of that attached to my the- 
odolite, which gave very distinct vision, though its 
magnifying power was small. An assistant was 
seated near me, who counted the seconds from 
a chronometer, and thus enabled me to mark 
down with a pencil the time when the first im- 
pression was made on the sun, without taking 
my eye from the telescope, till four or five sec- 


onds had elapsed, ^nd the echpse had sensibly 
increased ; after which I examined the second 
and minute hands of the chronometer, and took 
every precaution to prevent mistakes. Four or 
five minutes before the commencement of the 
eclipse, I began to observe that part of the sun 
where the first contact [of the moon's shadow] 
was expected to take place ; and eight minutes 
twenty-eight seconds after ten o'clock, I observ- 
ed the first impression. As the eclipse advanced, 
there did not appear to be so great a diminution 
of the light as was generally expected ; and it 
was not till the sun was nearly covered, that the 
darkness was very sensible. The last ray of 
light disappeared instantaneously. The moon 
was then seen surrounded by a luminous appear- 
ance of considerable extent, such as has been 
generally taken notice of in total eclipses of the 
sun." A number of stars became visible. The 
observer mentions that the lio;ht in the o-arden 
was not entirely gone ; but in the house, candles 
were needed, as if it were evening. At thir- 
ty-two minutes eighteen seconds after eleven 
o'clock, that is, at a little more than an hour from 
the beginning of the eclipse, the first returning 
ray of light burst forth, with great splendor. I 


have heard the ejETect, described by those who 
saw it, as surpassingly grand. Suddenly, the 
light of midday seemed to break in upon the 
quiet of evening. So completely were all the 
animal creation deceived, that the cows returned 
lowing homeward, and the fowls sought their 
roosts, and quietly placed their heads under their 
wings. Ail human beings were looking in mute 
amazement, and deep silence prevailed, as the 
dark shadow of the moon came stealing over 
the surface of the sun, at noon. There was 
something fearful about the total obscuration of 
the luminary. Suddenly, this beautiful ray of 
burning light shot forth, 'mid heaven, and fell 
upon the earth, and with it arose a loud shout 
from the assembled crowd, and aged men * and 
women joined in the chorus, and saluted again 
the orb of day. 

This paper, though short, is one of the most 
important he ever wrote. In a note to it, he 
first mentions publicly a mistake he had discov- 
ered in the '* Mecanlque Celeste." 

* Chief Justice Parsons, it is said, used to mention that 
moment as one of the most exciting of his Ufe ; and he could 
not forbear throwing up his hat, and joining in the shout 
with which the boys saluted the first returning light of 
the sun. 


In 1815, Mr. Bowditch published another 
paper, which I may be able to explain to you in 
some degree. You have all heard of falling 
stars, or meteors, and probably most of you have 
seen them frequently, when walking at night, 
w^hen the sky is clear. Some of these are very 
small ; they seem at a great distance. They 
suddenly appear in our heavens, and as suddenly 
disappear, and nothing more is heard or seen of 
them. Others, on the contrary, appear larger, 
and fall to the earth, after having traversed a 
great portion of the heavens. On the four- 
teenth of December, 1807, one of the most 
curious exploded, and fell over Weston, in Con- 
necticut. Mr. B., in his Memoir, writes thus: 

'' The extraordinary meteor which appeared 
at Weston, in Connecticut, on the fourteenth of 
December, 1807, and exploded with several 
discharges of stones, having excited great atten- 
tion thioudiout the United States, and bein^: 
one of those phenomena of which few exact ob- 
servations are to be found in the history of phy- 
sical science, I have thought that a collection 
of the best observations of its appearance at 
different places, with the necessary deductions 
for determining, as accurately as possible, the 


height, direction, velocity, and magnitude, of 
the body, would not be unacceptable to the 
Academy, since facts of this kind, besides being 
objects of great curiosity, may be useful in the 
investigation of the origin and nature of these 
meteors ; and as the methods of making these 
calculations are not fully explained in any trea- 
tise of trigonometry common in this country, I 
have given the solutions of two of the most ne- 
cessary problems, with examples calculated at 
full length. The second problem is not (to my 
knowledge) given in any treatise of spherics. 
The observations of the meteor which, after 
many inquiries, were found to have been made 
with sufficient accuracy to be introduced in the 
present investigation, were those made at Wen- 
ham, about seven miles northeasterly of Sa- 
lem, by Mrs. Gardner, a very intelligent lady, 
who had an opportunity of observing it with 
great attention ; those at Weston, by Judge 
Wlieeler and Mr. Staples; and those at Rut- 
land, in Vermont, by William Page, Esq." 
After giving the requisite solutions, he pro- 
ceeds : " Some time after the appearance of 
the meteor, 1 went with Mr. Pickering to Mrs. 
Gardner's house, at Wenham, where she had 


observed the phenomenon. She informed us, 
that on the morning of the fourteenth of De- 
cember, 1807, when she arose, she went towards 
the window of her chamber, which looks to the 
westward, for the pm'pose of observing the wea- 
ther, according to her invariable practice, for 
many years past. The sky was clear, except a 
few thin clouds in the west. It was past day- 
break, and^ by estimation, about half an hour 
before sunrise, or seven o'clock. The meteor 
was immediately observed, just over the south- 
ern part of the barn in her farm-yard, nearly in 
front of the window ; its disc was well defined ; 
and it resembled the moon so much, that, unpre- 
pared as Mrs. G.'s mind was for a phenomenon 
of that nature, she was not at first aware that 
it was not the moon, till she perceived it in 
motion, when her first thought (to use her own 
words) was, ' Where is the moon going to ? ' 
The reflection, how^ever, was hardly made, 
when she corrected herself; and with her eye 
followed the body with the closest attention 
throughout its whole course. It moved in a 
direction nearly parallel to the horizon, and dis- 
appeared behind a cloud northward of the house 


of Samuel Blanchard, Esq. She supposed the 
meteor to have been visible about half a minute. 
'^ The attention of Judge Wheeler was first 
drawn by a sudden flash of light, which illumi- 
nated every object. Looking up, he discovered 
m the north a globe of fire just then passing be- 
hind the cloud which obscured, though it did not 
entirely hide, the meteor. In this situation, its 
appearance was distinct and well defined, like 
that of the sun seen through a mist. It rose 
from the north, and proceeded in a direction 
nearly perpendicular to the horizon, but inclin- 
ing, by a very small angle, to the west, and de- 
viating a little from the plane of a great circle, 
but in pretty large curves, sometimes on one side 
of the plane, and sometimes on the other, but 
never making an angle with it of more than 
four or five degrees. Its apparent diameter was 
about one half or two thirds the apparent dia- 
meter of the full moon. It progress was not so 
rapid as that of common meteors and shooting 
stars. When it passed behind the thinner 
clouds, it appeared brighter than before ; and 
when it passed the spots of clear sky, it flashed 
with a vivid hght,yet not so intense as the light*- 


ning of a thunderstorm. Where it was not too 
much obscured by thick clouds, a waving, coni- 
cal train of paler light was seen to attend it, in 
length about ten or twelve diameters of the 
body. In the clear sky, a brisk scintillation 
was observed about the body of the meteor, 
like that of a burning firebrand carried against 
the wind. It disappeared about fifteen degrees 
short of the zenith, and about the same number 
of degrees west of the meridian. It did not 
vanish instantaneously, but grew, pretty rapidly, 
fainter and fainter, as a red-hot cannon-ball 
would do, if cooling in the dark, only with 
much more rapidity. The whole period 
between its first appearance and total extinc- 
tion was estimated at about thirty seconds. 
About thirty or forty seconds after this, 
three loud and distinct reports, like those of a 
four-pounder near at hand, were heard. Then 
followed a rapid succession of reports less loud, 
so as to produce a continued rumbling. This 
noise continued about as long as the body was 
in rising, and died away, apparently, in the 
direction fi^om which the meteor came. Mr. 
Staples observed, that when the meteor dis- 
appeared, there were apparently three success 


sive efforts or leaps of the fire-ball, which grew 
more dim at every throe, and disappeared with 
the last. From the various accounts which we 
have received of the appearance of the body, at 
different places, we are inclined to believe that 
the time between the disappearance and report, 
as estimated by Judge Wheeler, is too little, and 
that a minute is the least time that could have 

'' The observations made at Rutland were 
procured by the kind offices of Professor Hall, 
of Middlebury College, Vermont, to whom Mr. 
Page communicated his valuable observations 
in a paper expressed in the following terms. ^ I 
was at the west door of my house on Monday 
morning, the fourteenth of December, 1807, 
about daylight, and perceiving the sky suddenly 
illuminated, 1 raised my eyes, and beheld a me- 
teor of a circular form in the southwesterly part 
of the heavens, rapidly descending to the south, 
leaving behind it a vivid, sparkling train of light. 
The atmosphere near the south part of the hori- 
zon was very hazy ; but the passage of the 
meteor behind the clouds was visible until it 
descended below the mountains, about twenty 
miles south of this place. There were white 


fleecy clouds scattered about the sky ; but none 
so dense as to obscure the track of the meteor. 
I now lament that I did not make more particu- 
lar observations at the time, and I should proba- 
bly, until this day, have considered it to be what 
is commonly called a ^ falling star,^ had I not 
read in the New York papers an account of the 
explosion of a meteor, and the falling of some 
meteoric stones, near New Haven, Connecticut, 
which, by recurring to circumstances then fresh 
in my recollection, I found to be on the same 
morning that I observed the meteor at Rutland. 
I am indebted to my learned friend, Dr. Samuel 
Williams, for his aid and directions in ascertain- 
ing: the situation of the meteor, when I first ob- 
served it, and its course, and also for the order 
of my observations : — Form, circular ; magni- 
tude, less than a quarter of the diameter of the 
moon ; color, red, vivid light ; tail, or train of 
light, about eight times the length of its diameter, 
at the least, projected opposite to its course.' " 
I quote these, to give you some notion of the 
appearance of this meteor, and likewise of Mr. 
B.'s diligence. From the examination of all 
the accounts given him, he came to the conclu- 
sion, that the body moved at the rate of more 


than three miles per second, and at the height 
of eighteen miles above the surface of the earth. 
With regard to the magnitude of the body, the 
results were less accurate ; and the probability 
is, that all the body did not fall, but merely 
passed through the air, and continued on its 
course into unknown regions of space. 

The other papers 1 shall not mention, because 
they are upon subjects difficult to be compre- 
hended. The last appeared in the volumes of 
the Memoirs of the Academy, published in 
1820. All these papers were read by the as- 
tronomers and mathematicians of Europe, and 
the consequence was, that he was chosen a mem- 
ber of many of the learned societies instituted 
there for the promotion of science. In 1818, 
he was chosen member of the Royal Societies 
of London and Edinburgh ; and, in the year fol- 
lowing, was enrolled on the list of the Royal 
Irish Academy. While I am upon this sub- 
ject, I would state, that he afterwards was 
elected associate of the Astronomical Society of 
London, of the Academies of Berlin and Paler- 
mo, and had a correspondence with most of the 
astronomers of Europe. The National Insti- 
tute of France was about choosing him one of 


its foreign members, only eight of which are 
chosen from the whole world, when he died. 

In addition to the papers to the Academy, 
Mr. Bowditch published several articles in re- 
views, &c. One of them is an interesting his- 
tory of modern astronomy, which is intended to 
give us an account of the lives and doings of 
the most celebrated astronomers of modern 
times. Such were the principal literary labors 
of JVlr. Bowditch, during: his residence in Salem. 

But he was destined soon to leave Salem. 
In 1823, overtures were made to him to control 
two institutions in Boston, one for Life Insur- 
ance, the other for Marine risks. The offers 
were too liberal for him to refuse. His duties to 
his family led him to consent to do what nothing 
else could. On his determination being known, 
his fellow-citizens collected together, and paid 
him a pleasant tribute of respect and love, by 
inviting him to a public and farewell dinner. 

As the family left Salem, Mr. Bowditch and 
his wife often thought that, after remaining eight 
or ten years at Boston, they w^ould return, in 
order that their bodies might be laid by the side 
of those of their ancestors. But new friends 
awaited them in Boston ; new ties were formed 


there ; and, although they always looked to their 
native place as the seat of many of their most 
beloved associations, they both lived in Boston 
until their deaths. 

His engagements of a public nature, during 
his residence in Boston, were similar to those he 
had whilst at Salem. For many years he man- 
aged both institutions. But, the directors, find- 
ing that the duties of one were sufficient to 
occupy all his attention, broke up the Marine 
Insurance Company, and Mr. Bow ditch (or Dr. 
Bowditch, as he was now generally called, hav- 
ing received the degree of Doctor of Laws from 
Harvard University in 1816) devoted himself to 
the Life Insurance Office. This he raised to 
be one of the greatest institutions in New Eng- 
land. By an alteration in the charter proposed 
by Dr. Bowditch, this is now a great Savings 
Bank, where immense sums are yearly put in 
trust, for widows and orphans. The only differ- 
ence in his habits caused by his removal to Bos- 
ton, was an enlargement of his sphere of labor. 
All objects of public utility still engaged his 

The system of popular lectures, of which 
we have now so many, commenced with the 


Mechanic Institution, of which he was the first 
President. He was zealous for the improve- 
ment of the Boston Athenaeum, and was the 
means of getting for it large sums of money, 
and of making it more liberal to the public. 

An honor was conferred upon him, after his 
arrival in Boston, which he thought the greatest 
he ever had attained. Having received two 
honorary degrees from Harvard University, and 
having been one of the Board of Overseers of 
that Institution for many years, he was finally 
chosen a member of the Corporation, or council 
of seven men, who guide the whole of the con- 
cerns of that important institution. How differ- 
ent the commencement and termination of the 
career of the poor son of a cooper, who, at 
ten years of age, left school, and yet, at the end 
of life was one of the chief directors in the first 
literary institution in America ! And his school- 
mates, who laughed at him for his poverty, and 
thin, coarse dress, where were they ? 



Sketch of the Life of La Place, author of the " Mecanique 
Celeste " — Newton's labors. — Halley's comet. — The 
importance of astronomy to navigation. — Comets: Dr. 
Bowditch's labors upon this work : difficulties attending 
the undertaking : objects he had in view : first volume 
analysed : Newton's error pointed out. 

In a former part of this story of his life, you 
will remember that I stated tliat, on his last 
voyage. Dr. Bowditch commenced his notes 
upon the ^^ JMecanique Celeste" of La Place. 
It was on the first day of IVovember, during his 
disagreeable voyage homewards, in 1803, that 
he wrote his first note to the work which was 
destined to occupy much of his time from that 
moment until his death, thirty -five years after- 
wards, in Boston. This work certainly deserves 
some of our attention, if he thought it worthy of 
receiving the attention of so many years of his 
life. A brief account of the life of the author 
of the original work may interest you, and will 
serve as an introduction to the book itself. 

Pierre Lucien La Place was born on the 
twenty-third of March, 1749, at Beaumont, on 
the borders of the beautiful and fertile country 


of ancient Normandy, situated in the northwest- 
ern part of France. He was the son of simple 
peasants in that country, and, from liis earliest 
years, was remarkable for the extraordinary pow- 
ers of memory and intense love of study with 
which he was endowed. In early life every 
branch of learnino; was delio-htful to him. He 
seemed eager to gain knowledge merely, with- 
out regard to the object of his study. But he 
soon began to distinguish himself upon the sub- 
ject of theology. This pursuit, however, was 
soon ended, and, by some means, of which no 
details now remain, his mind was led to mathe- 
matics ; and, from that moment, he was devoted 
to them. After spending his youth at his native 
place, and having taught mathematics there, he, 
at the age of eighteen years, went to Paris, to 
seek a wider sphere of knowledge. Bearing 
several letters of recommendation, as a youth of 
great promiise, he presented himself at the abode 
of D'Alembert, who at that time was the first 
mathematician of France, and contended with 
Euler, at Berlin, for the honor of being the first 
in the world. But the letters upon which the 
youth depended so much, proved of no avail. 
D'Alembert passed them by in silent neglect, 


without even deigning to receive at his own 
abode the bearer of them. But La Place was 
fully bent upon success, and, relying upon the 
force of his own genius as a more powerful re- 
commendation than any letters, he sent to D' 
Alembert an essay, written by himself, upon a 
very abstruse subject, relating to mechanics. 
The Professor, struck with its elegance and 
deep learning, immediately called upon the 
writer, and addressed him in these words : 
" You see, sir, that I think recommendations 
are worth but very little, and for yourself they 
are wholly unnecessary. By your own writings 
you can make yourself better known than by 
any other means. They are sufficient. I will 
do all I can for you." In a few days after this 
conversation, the young man was appointed pro- 
fessor of mathematics in the public military 
school, at the capital of France. From this 
period, until the end of his life, he was occupied 
upon the science which he was called at this 
early age to teach publicly at Paris. He be- 
came daily more acquainted with the great men 
of the nation, and was himself making additions 
to the scientific acquirements of the age, thus 
giving eminent proofs of his activity of mind. He 


was a member of the French Academy, or soci- 
ety of learned men, united for the purpose of 
advancing the cause of learning, and he stood 
soon very high amongst them. 

His chief work, the '' Celestial Mechanics,'' 
(*^ Mecanique Celeste,") he began to publish in 
1799, and finished the fourth volume in 1805. 
This placed him much above all his contempora- 
ries ; for in it he had not only combined many 
things which he himself had discovered, but like- 
wise gave a history, as it were, of all that had 
been done by geometricians from the time of 
Sir Isaac Newton until his own day. La Place 
found many things, detached, but his genius 
proved that many apparently discordant facts 
could be explained by Newton's theory of uni- 
versal gravitation. His labor must have been 
immense. All Europe rung with the fame of 
this production, which was said to be beyond 
any thing ever performed before by man. The 
echo of its fame reached America, and Mr. 
Bowditch sought for the volumes, as they were 
successively published. The first two he re- 
ceiv^ed in part payment of his labor on the 
*^ Navipjator." 


Soon after his arriv^al home from his fourth 
voyage, Dr. Bowditch was taking his accustom- 
ed walk towards the lower part of the town of 
Salem and met his old friend, Captain Prince. 
They entered into conversation, and Dr. B. re- 
marked that he had, a short time before, receiv- 
ed a book from France, which he had longed to 
obtain, having heard that it was superior to any 
thing ever before written by man, and which 
very few were able to comprehend. This work 
was that which now renders his own name famil- 
iarly known among the great men of the earth. 

Later in life, La Place published a work, 
called the '^ System of the World." In this, 
which comparatively speaking, is not difficult 
to be read by almost any one, he attempts to 
give a plain and simple statement of all that is 
known in regard to those wise and magnificent 
laws V. hereby this solar system is kept together 
in perfect harmony, while at the same time it is 
sailing onward through fields of space. 

Ld Place, liowever, was not a truly great 
man, because he was not just ; he was willing 
to attribute to himself the discoveries of others. 
Moreover, there was none of the sweetness of 
humility about him. On Napoleon Bonaparte's 


becoming First Consul in France, La Place 
was niade one of the ministers of the state ; but 
he was found to be unfit for the office, and re- 
tired after a few weeks' service, but was made 
a member of the Senate, of which he became 
President, After finishing his political career, 
he published other works of great moment, but 
of those I shall not speak. About the year 
1827, he was seized with an acute disorder, 
which soon terminated his life. His last words 
are remarkable, as conveying the same truth 
that every wise man has upon his lips at the 
hour of death. As he reviewed the amount 
of his learning, which was in one respect greater 
than that of any man living, he exclaimed, 
" What we know here is very little, but what 
we are ignorant of is immense." Every man is 
compelled to become silent and modest, as he 
sees death approach. La Place was like other 
common men. He died as a man, and was 
buried, and the men of science felt sad, that one 
so learned, and of so strong an intellect, should 
have departed ; yet, alas, that we should say, 
few loved him. I have already stated that the 
reason of it was, his low ambition. Endowed 
by the Almighty with the loftiest powers of in- 


tellect, he stood alone, and commanded the re- 
spect of his associates ; but, instead of using his 
intellect always nobly, he suffered his soul to be 
degraded by a love of paltry show, and with the 
gratification of a merely selfish vanity, to gain 
which, he was at times guilty of injustice to 
others. Dr. Bowditch, though he regarded La 
Place as the greatest mathematician that had 
ever lived, had little real sympathy with his 

We must now undertake to give you a short 
account of the ^^ Mecanique Celeste," and of 
Dr. Bowditch's labors upon it. The original 
work consists of five volumes, but Dr. Bowditch 
lived to complete the translation of, and com- 
mentary upon, only the first four. There are 
about fifteen hundred pages in the original, 
while there are three thousand eight hundred and 
eighteen in the American translation. The ob- 
ject of the original work may be known from the 
following introductory remarks by the author, on 
the occasion of printing the first volume, in 
1798 : '' Newton, towards the end of the last 
century, published his discovery of the laws of 
gravity, or of the power by which the solar sys- 
tem is held together. Since that period, geom- 


etricians have succeeded in bringing under this 
law all the known phenomena of the system of 
the universe. I mean to brino; together those 
scattered themes and facts upon this subject, so 
as to form one whole, which shall embrace all 
the known results of gravity upon the motions, 
forms, &ic., of the fluid and solid bodies that 
compose our solar system, as well as of those 
other similar systems that are spread around in 
the immensity of space." You probably all un- 
derstand from this quotation the general object 
of the '' Mecanique Celeste." La Place like- 
wise informs us, that the work is divided into 
two parts. In the first, he proposes to give the 
methods for determining the motions of the 
heavenly bodies, their forms, the motions of the 
oceans and seas upon their surfaces, and finally, 
the movements of rotation of these spheres about 
their own axis. In the second part, he prom- 
ises to apply the rules which he has discovered 
in the first, to the planets and the satellites 
which move around them, and likewise to the 
comets. The first part is found in the first two 
volumes, the second part occupies the two last. 
From these few remarks, you will perceive the 
immense task imposed upon himself by La 


Place, and at the same time the grandeur of it. 
How wonderful, that a simple man dares at- 
tempt to mark out the course of the bright lumi- 
naries of heaven, which we see ciusterini{ around 
us at night ! But how much more wonderful 
does man become, when we perceive that he has 
the ])ower to foretell to us the return of comets, 
that have never been seen by any one hving 
now; comets, that have been, during our lives, 
travelling into the far-off fields of space ! Strange, 
that a simple man can prophesy, to a day, their 
return ! Many of you doubtless remember a 
beautifully bright and clear comet, which a few 
years ago appeared, as had been predicted, after 
an absence of seventy-six years. It is called 
H alley's comet, after its first discoverer. At 
first, it seemed like a bright s|>eck in the heavens 
towards the north ; but the next night it was 
larger. It seemed to approach with fearful ra- 
pidity, from evening to evening, and, sweeping 
in majesty across our western sky, disappeared 
gradually in its progress towards the sun, around 
which it whirled, and again appeared, more 
faintly visible than before, just over our eastern 
horizon, as if to give us one more glin^pse of it- 
self, a strange messenger of the Almighty, before 


it passed off on its far-distant journey, not to re- 
turn, until we, who are now young and free as 
air, are all laid quietly in the grave, or have be- 
come enfeebled and decrepid by the approach of 
age. Truly, great is God, who made the comet ; 
but to me, man also seems full of grandeur, when 
I find him capable of even foretelling the exact 
passage of such a body. Yet La Place enables 
any man to prophesy thus ; and in his '^ Mecan- 
ique Celeste" may you find all the elements 
necessary for this object. But he likewise tells 
us the forms of the planets ; he enables us to 
measure the ring which surrounds the planet 
Saturn, and even the form of the atmosphere 
surrounding the sun. In this same work he treats 
of those curious phenomena, which, as we see 
them daily, we think of httle moment, the flow 
and ebb of the sea, or, in other words, high and 
low tides, and the causes of them. He treats of 
the motion of the earth about its centre, and the 
same motions in the moon and planets. These 
are the chief objects of the first and second vol- 
umes. The third volume, as we have already 
hinted, contains questions of great intricacy, and 
of immense importance ; namely, the exact mo- 
tions of the planets around the sun, as affected 


by all the attractions exerted upon them by the 
various bodies of the universe; and the still 
more important motions of our moon around 
the earth ; I say important, because the exact 
knowledge of the course of this body is of the 
greatest moment to every seaman who attempts 
to go from one country to another, over the track- 
less ocean. By means of observations upon this 
planet, the sailor can sail over distant seas for 
many months, and be able to return, when he 
may wish, to his own home, in safety. Hence 
the importance of the astronomer to the sim- 
ple navigator of our planet. The history of 
Dr. Bowditch is another proof of the truth of 
this statement. By his accurate knowledge of 
astronomy, by his ability to follow La Place, in 
his investigations of all the motions of the solar 
system, he was enabled to produce a work on 
navigation which is sought for all over the world ; 
as it combines the best methods of using the re- 
sults of pure astronomy in the art of navigation. 
The " Practical Navigator " would never have 
maintained its hold upon the community as it 
has done, if Dr. Bowditch had not been as skil- 
ful in mathematics and astronomy as in the de- 
tails of navigation. 


But to return to the '' Mecanique Celeste." 
The fourth volume contahis similar investiga- 
tions, namely, the motions of the satellites, or 
moons, about the other planets. Of these, Ju- 
piter's are the most interesting, after that of the 
earth, or the moon. There are four of them. 
These were the first that the invention of the 
telescope, by Galileo, revealed to man ; and, 
by their frequent revolutions around the planet, 
they have in their turn shown to us many of the 
laws, which govern the whole planetary system, 
besides many curious and interesting facts in re- 
gard to their own forms and masses. From the 
eclipses or disappearances of the first satellite, 
when it passes on the side of the planet opposite 
to that at which the observer from the earth is 
looking, it has demonstrated the velocity of light. 
Finally, the author treats of the seven moons, 
or satellites, of Saturn, and likewise of the planet 
Herschel, about which much less is known. 

After attending to these subjects. La Place 
investigates the powers which act upon comets, 
which tend to turn from their courses those bod- 
ies, which, as 1 have before said, are flying hi 
very many directions throughout the universe, 
and which are hable to be moved out of their 


direction by the actions of some planets near 
which they may come. This was the case with 
a comet in 1770, whose course was wholly 
changed by the planet Jupiter drawing it tow- 
ards its own body. To investigate the various 
laws of these disturbing forces is one object of 
this volume. Some other subjects are treated 
of; but of these I shall now not speak. 

From this brief account of the " Mecanique 
Celeste," you may judge of the difSculties which 
the original writer had to overcome, in making 
it, and of the immense labor requisite. But La 
Place frequently supposes that a proposition is 
perfectly intelligible to his reader, because it is 
so to him* Having such a superior intellect, he 
is able to see that at a glance for which any one 
else would require a long demonstration, before 
he could become thoroughly master of the sub- 
ject. The consequence of this is, an obscurity 
in the work, which has made it doubly difficult 
of comprehension. Several years ago, but a 
long time after Dr. Bowditch had read and 
made notes upon the whole work, an English 
writer said, that there were scarcely twelve men 
in Europe capable of comprehending it. Dr. 
Bowditch, feeling that it was the most impor- 


tant work upon astronomy ever published, had 
undertaken the translation of it, and had made 
notes thereupon, for the purpose of '' amusing 
his leisure hours ; " and upon its being known 
that he had finished the task, the American 
Academy proposed to publish it at its own ex- 
pense ; but Dr. Bowditch would not allow this, 
and reserved the publication until he was able 
to bring it forth with his own property. But 
let us see, now, what service Dr. B. intended 
to perform by his translation and commentary.. 
His first object was to lay before America the 
greatest work on the science of astronomy ever 
published. Secondly, his aim was to bring that 
work down to the comprehension of young men 
and students of mathematics, by filling up those 
places left by La Place without demonstration. 
Thirdly, he meant to give the history of the 
science of astronomy for the last thirty years. 
Fourthly, he wished to collect together all the 
discoveries which he had made during the forty 
years of his life that he had devoted to science. 
His first aim was gained by the Translation. 
His second was completely successful, for he was 
assured by correspondents, both in America and 
Europe, that he had enabled several to read the 


immortal work of La Place, who never would 
have done so, had not Dr. B. published his 
Commentary. The Royal Astronomer at Pa- 
lermo says, in a printed work, published after 
the first two volumes of the Translation had 
reached him, '^ Bowditch's Commentary should 
be translated into Italian ; " and Lacroix, a cele- 
brated French mathematician, advised a young 
Swiss to read La Place in the American edi- 
tion, rather than in the original. But what 
pleased the commentator more than any thing 
else, were the frequent letters from young men 
residing in various parts of America, expressing 
gratitude for the benefits they had received from 
his work. When 1 think of these, I am re- 
minded of the epithet bestowed upon Dr. Bow- 
ditch since his death, and by one well capable 
of judging, namely, '' Father of American Mathe- 
matics." He has given a tone to the study of 
science, which will be long felt. 

In regard to the third object, all critics allow 
that he was eminently successful in giving the 
history of science up to the present time. 

Upon the fourth point, we might refer, first, 
to the immense increase of bulk of the work, as 
a proof, but 1 prefer to mention a few details ; 


and in order to this, let us examine the Commen- 
tary, and let it speak for itself. But it must be 
remembered, that, in making this examination, 
I must omit many circumstances, because you 
would not understand or feel interested in any 
greater detail. 

In the first volume, he points out two errors 
of La Place, one of which relates to the motion 
of the earth ; and the other is of much impor- 
tance. It relates to the permanency of our solar 
system, as it is commonly called. You all 
doubtless know, that the sun is situated in the 
centre, and the planets, with our earth, revolve 
around this luminary, which gives light and heat 
to all. Now, these bodies revolve in certain 
fixed '^ nearly circular " directions, and La Place 
thought that they would always continue to do 
so, and that Mercury, Venus, the Earth, Mars, 
Jupiter, Saturn, and Herschel, v/ould for ever 
continue to wheel around in their accustomed 
orbits. Dr. Bowditch proves, however, that, 
though this may be true of the three larger plan- 
ets, Jupiter, Saturn, andHerschel,it is not equally 
certain, /ro/Ti the yr oofs given by La Place, that 
our earth, or any of the other smaller planets, 
may not fly off into regions far remote from those 


in which they have been revolving for ages. 
This error had been made the subject of a pa- 
per to the American Academy at an earlier pe- 
riod of his life. Bat it must not be supposed 
that there is any proof that the solar system will 
not continue to exist for many long ages. On 
the contrary, there is no doubt that it will last 
millions of years. Dr. Bowditch merely wished 
to assert that La Place's argument and calcula- 
tion did not prove as much as the French m.athe- 
matician thought they did. In this volume Dr. 
Bowditch likewise alludes to a topic which he 
had made the subject of a communication, a 
long time previously, to the American Acade- 
my ; I refer to a mistake in Newton's ^' Prin- 
cipia," which he discovered when quite young, 
and had sent an account of to the President of 
Harvard College. This gentleman transferred 
the question to the Professor of Mathematics, 
who believed the youth was mistaken. Doubt- 
less, he thought it very strange that a simple 
youth should presume to correct any thing pub- 
lished by so eminent a man as Newton. The 
error of the Professor will become less singular, 
when you learn that the same mistake escaped 
the notice of all the commentators on the " Prin* 


cipia," that is, for more than a century ; and 
that the cause of the original communication 
being made to the Academy was the attempt of 
Mr. Emerson, an Englishman, to prove the cor- 
rectness of the English Philosopher. Every 
one, I believe, now allows that Dr. Bowditch 
was correct, and that a considerable error 
would result, in calculating the orbit of a comet, 
in using Newton's calculations. 



Commentary continued : second volume. — Discussion be- 
tween the English and French Mathematicians : Dr. B.'s 
criticisms. — Errors in La Place, in regard to the earth, 
&c. — Third volume: motions of the moon. — Fourth 
volume : many errors discovered in it. — Halley's Com- 
et. — Curious phenomena of capillary attraction. 

In the second volume of the Commentary, 
Dr. Bowditch makes very copious notes, in 
which he shews a perfect knowledge of the works 
of the chief mathematicians of Europe. He 
stands as critic between two of the most power- 
ful of the age ; Messrs. Ivory and Poisson ; the 
former an Englishman, the latter a Frenchman, 
and in reference, likewise, to a difficult subject 
namely, the revolution or the turning of it upon 
its own axis, as our earth does, of a fluid mass. 
He not merely agrees with Mr. Poisson, but, by 
a very simple illustration, proves the total inac- 
curacy of Mr. Ivory's views. I well remember 
the earnestness with which he studied this sub- 
ject. Day after day, he returned to the task of 
finding out some "simple case," with which to 
prove to the satisfaction of others the truth of his 
own view. At length, when he did discover it, 


he jumped up in ecstacy, and, rubbing his hands 
and forehead with dehght, exclaimed, '^ I have 
got it !" 

Dr. Bowditch in this vohame points out five 
errors or omissions made by La Place, some of 
which are very serious. One refers to the 
form of our earth, and had been previously com- 
municated to the Academy. There is another, 
of some moment, relative to the time occupied in 
the revolution of one of Saturn's rings, La Place 
having made it longer than was true. 

Finally, on the subject of the motion of the 
earth about its centre of gravity, he points out 
an error, in which La Place gives to two num^ 
bers only one third of their true value. 

In the third volume, occupied as it is with the 
motions of the planets and of the moon, and with 
all the phenomena accompanying these. Dr. 
Bowditch shows much learning, and his power 
of bringing together all modern science. As in 
the previous volume, he labors without fear upon 
subjects treated of with much earnestness by La 
Place, Poisson, and Pontecoulant, in France, and 
Plana in Italy. 

On the theory of the motions of the moon, a 
very difficult and interesting subject, Dr. B. 


makes very copious notes, and the volume termi- 
nates with an appendix of more than two hun- 
dred and fifty pages, in which he gives the histo- 
ry of modern astronomy, in reference to the 
calculations of the movements of planets and com- 
ets. In this, he speaks of Doctor Olbers and M. 
Gauss. The former, from having discovered three 
planets since eighteen hundred, is called *^ the 
fortunate Columbus of the Heavens." The lat- 
ter is one of the most remarkable men in the 
world, for the rapidity with which he is able to 
perform the most tedious and troublesome calcu- 

We come now to the last volume, in printing 
the thousandth page of which, he died. It was 
the most difficult to him of the whole, and prob- 
ably will raise him higher in the estimation of 
the scientific world, than either of the others. In 
the first place, I w^ould remark, that, either from 
the difficulty of the subject, or from the inatten- 
tion of La Place, an unusual number of errors 
was discovered. No less than twenty -four errors 
or omissions are pointed out. Many of these seem 
insignificant, but often, as may be supposed, they 
materially affect the calculation. Most of them 
refer to the deran elements and the motions of Ju- 


piter's satellites, a subject which occupies three 
hundred and fourteen pa^^c s of the volume. The 
keenness of his criticism is again perceived upon 
a subject in dispute between Plana and La Place, 
and Dr. B. points out one mistake, and Poisson, 
another, whereby Mr. PI ana's views are proved 
lo coincide entirely Li Place's, instead of 
being opposed to them. 

I find a note upon Halley's comet, to which 
I alluded, as presenting a grand spectacle in our 
western sky, a few years since, and I cannot for- 
bear mentioning the coinc'dence. Di. Bow- 
ditch, when making his notes upon the subject 
of the motions and revolutions of comets, speaks 
of Halley's comet, and mentions all that is known 
about it, and its probable appearance. This 
note was prepared some time before it was print- 
ed. It terminates thus : '' Since writing the pre- 
ceding part of this note, the comet has again ap- 
peared, and, at the time of 'printing this page, 
is visible in the heavens, not far distant from the 
place corresponding to the elements of Mr. Pon- 

The work, so far as Dr. B. is concerned, fin- 
ishes with the most curious and difficult subject 
of capillary attraction, or that power whereby a 


liquid arises in narrow tubes beyond the level of 
the fluid outside, as we see familiarly in sponges, 
and cloths, and hollow pieces of glass. You may 
think this subject of little moment ; yet La Place 
thought it more curious than almost any other, 
and he calls the attention of mathematicians to 
it, with much earnestness. You would scarcely 
suppose that the dewdrop, that glitters on the 
grass in the mornino;, would suoro-est ideas to the 
philosopher about the formation of a planet : yet 
so it is. The same laws, which govern the gath- 
ering together of the bright drops of water, have 
bound together the particles of our earth. Of 
course, such a subject would call forth the best 
minds. After La Place, came Gauss, whose 
results were similar to those of La Place. But, 
in 1831, Mr, Poisson, the first mathematician 
now hving,^ of whom we have already spoken 
frequently, put forth a work, wherein he pretends 
to have produced many new views on the sub- 
ject, by taking into consideration certain particu- 
lars which La Place did not. Dr. Bowditch re- 
ceived this work while engaged in printing this 
volume. He ceased printing, and devoted six 
months or more to a thorough perusal of the new 

* Since this was written Poisson has died. 


French work ; and the result has been, that he 
has proved that, whhout an exception, unless 
where an evident error was made by La Place, 
the principles of this mathematician, when fairly 
carried out, would produce all the results which 
Mons. Poisson has given as new in his work ; 
thereby, in fact, putting aside entirely the new 
theory of capillary attraction, brought forward by 
the hving philosopher. This is decidedly the 
most important part of the work, so far as Dr. 
Bowditch is concerned. It places him much 
higher than before in the scale of mathematical 

1 would willingly give a further analysis, but 
I forbear, because it would not be interesting to 
you. It was in correcting this, his noblest task, 
in the plenitude of his strength of intellect, that 
he was destined to die. 



Sketch of the Hfe of La Grange, the equal of La Place : 
love Dr. B. had for this person's character : comparison 
between him and La Place : also between him and Dr. 
Bowditch. — Conclusion of the Memoir. 

During this history, I frequently have 
spoken of different individuals ; but there is 
one, about whom little mention has been 
made, but of whose life I wish to give you a 
short history, as his character resembles very 
much that of Dr. Bowditch. His mind and 
heart were always regarded by the American 
mathematician with feelings of respect and lovcj 
such as he felt towards no other philosopher. 
An equal, too, of La Place, it seems not im- 
proper to mention him, and I know you will 
excuse the slight interruption in my story, when 
you perceive how this lofty nature of La Grange 
seems to harmonize with and to illustrate as it 
were the life of Dr. Bowditch. 

Joseph Louis La Grange, one of the most 
famous geometricians of modern times, was bom 
at Turin, January 25, 1736. He was one of 
eleven children of parents who became very 



poor, SO that Joseph had in early hfe to gain his 
own subsistence. When young, he devoted him- 
self to the classics, and read Latin constantly. 
At seventeen his taste for abstruse mathematics 
first showed itself, and from this period he con- 
tinued studying by himself, without aid, and in 
two years he had acquired a knowledge of all 
that was known upon the science, and began to 
correspond with the geometricians of other lands. 
In 1755, he sent to Euler, then the greatest in 
the world, and residing in Berlin, an answer to 
a problem proposed by Euler, ten years before, 
to the learned men of Europe, and which they 
had been unable to solve. Meanwhile, he was 
appointed Professor of Mathematics at Turin, 
at the age of nineteen years, and soon after- 
wards originated the academy of sciences at that 
place ; and in their Memoirs he published pa- 
pers, in which he not merely criticised Euler and 
D'Alembert, and others but brought forward 
some very curious new views of science, discov- 
ered by himself. Europe soon resounded with 
his praises, and he was chosen member of all 
the learned societies. In 1766, he was called 
to the Court of Frederick the Great, of Prussia, 
to take the place of Euler, who was summoned 


by the Emperor of Russia to St. Petersburg. 
Frederick wrote to him thus : '^ Come to my 
Court, for it is right that the greatest mathemati- 
cian in Europe should be near the greatest king/' 
He remained there until Frederick died, and soon 
after that he was invited by the French govern- 
ment to come to Paris. From this time, with 
slight interruptions, his fame continued to in- 
crease, and every one delighted to honor him ; 
for his labors did honor to his adopted country. 
One of the most beautiful compliments, perhaps, 
ever paid to man, was the message sent by the 
French government to the venerable father of 
La Grange, at Piedmont, when that country 
fell by a revolution, under French influence. 
*^ Go," said the Minister of Foreign Affairs, to 
his ambassador, *' go to the venerable father of 
the illustrious La Grange, and say to him, that, 
after the events that have just taken place, the 
French Government look to him as the first ob- 
ject of their interest." The answ^er of the old 
man was touching : " This day is the happiest 
of my life, and my son is the cause of it ! " And 
thrice blessed must be such a son ! for he fills 
the last hours of his father's life with peace. 
When Bonaparte came into power, new honors 


were showered upon him. But what was it that 
charmed Dr. Bowditch, in the character of La 
Grange ? It was the combination of a giant in- 
tellect with extreme modesty and simplicity, a 
sincere love of truth, and almost feminine afTec- 
tions. He was a pure being, whose intellect 
equalled La Place's, but who at the same time 
was full of the utmost gentleness and strict jus- 
tice. He was at Berlin during the earlier part 
of La Place's career in Paris. In after-life, the 
two were friends. Both were great geniuses ; 
both were capable of the highest flights of 
thought, and of bringing down to the compre- 
hension of mankind the vast and wise laws im- 
pressed by God on the system of the universe. 
But La Place soiled his reputation by trifling 
political ambition. La Grange stood aside, 
quiet and pleased with his own high thoughts ; 
yet, if his fellows wished him to take upon him- 
self any public duties, he took them cheerfully, 
and as cheerfully resigned them. La Place 
courted honors ; La Grange meekly received 
them. La Place had few to love him, for he 
stripped others of the fruits of their labors, to 
cover himself with their glory ; but in the heart 
of La Grange sat humihty, justice, and philan- 


148 ^ MEMOIE OF 

thropic love. In fact, La Grange was full of 
the loftiest virtue and genius, while La Place 
had the latter, merely. Such were two men 
whose works Dr. Bowditch read with the great- 
est pleasure. But he often spoke with great 
feeling of the noble traits in the character of La 
Grange. The features and form of the head of 
Dr. Bowditch resembled those of the French 
astronomer ; and I have often thought, that, as 
they were like each other in countenance, so 
their dispositions and fortunes in life were more 
nearly similar than is usual in this world. Both 
were born poor, and early had to seek subsist- 
ence for themselves. Each devoted himself 
early to the science of mathematics ; and both 
became eminent in it. Love of truth, and a 
longing for it, every where, were strong traits in 
both ; order and regularity of life, and simpli- 
city of food and regimen, belonged to them 
equally. Above all, a sincere reverence for 
goodness, for true modesty and delicate refine- 
ment, and a deep respect for the female sex, 
were strikingly manifest in both. They were 
n:ioderate in their desires. They had the high- 
est good of humanity at heart. Both sought 
for quiet and retirement from the turmoil of life, 


in their " peaceful mathematics." As the lives 
of both were beautiful, so was the serenity of 
their death scenes. I shall terminate this short 
story of La Grange, by a few details of his 
death. He was attacked near the end of March 
1813 by a severe fever, and the symptoms soon 
became alarmins;. He saw the dano-er he was 
in, but preserved still his serenity of soul. ^^ I 
am studying," says he, '^ what is passing within 
me, as if I were now engaged in some great and 
rare experiment." On the eighth of April, his 
friends, Messrs. Lacepede, Monge, and Chap- 
tal, visited him, and, in a long conversation 
which he entered into with them, he showed 
that his memory was still unclouded, and his in- 
tellect as bright as ever. He spoke to them of 
his actual condition, of his labors, of his suc- 
cess, of the tenor of his life ; and expressed no 
regret at dying, except at the idea of being sepa- 
rated from his wife, whose kind attentions had 
been unremittingly bestowed upon him. He 
soon sunk, and died. Three days afterwards, 
his body was deposited in the Pantheon, as it is 
called, the great burial place for the renowned 
men of France ; and La Place, and his friend 
Lacepede, delivered their tributes of praise and 


admiration over his grave. So peaceful and 
calm was the death of him whose life 1 have 
been trying to place before you. 

Dr. Bowditch's health had been generally 
good, though he never was robust. In 1808, 
he was dangerously ill, with a cough, and, by 
the advice of a physician, he took a journey. 
He first w^ent towards Pawtucket and Provi- 
dence ; thence, w^esterly, through Hartford and 
New Haven, as far as Albany, and back again, 
across the interior of IMassachusetts, as far as 
the fertile valley of the Connecticut river. 
Thence, passing upwards, he crossed on the 
southern borders of Vermont and New Hamp- 
shire, to Newbury port, and back to Salem. 
This journey quite restored him, and he never 
afterwards suffered much from cough ; and very 
generally enjoyed good health, until his last ill- 
ness. He sometimes continued, howev^er, for a 
long while, without any complaint of suffering ; 
for he was unwilling to trouble his friends with 
any detail of his illness. 

In 1834, his wife died. His heart was borne 
down by the loss. She had been to him always a 
loving and a tender companion ; faithful and true, 
even to the minutest points. She had watched 


all his labors. She had urged him onward in 
the pursuit of science, by telling him that she 
would find the means of meeting any expense, 
by her own economy, in her care of the family. 
She had watched the progress of his greatest 
work which, with his dying hands, he afterwards 
dedicated to her memory. She had listened 
with delight to all the praises that had come to 
him, from his own countrymen and foreign lands ; 
and now, when he was full of honor and yet 
activ^e in business, she was called to leave him. 
With her, the real charm of life departed, and 
many sad hours would have been the conse- 
quence, if his sense of duty, and devotion to 
study, had not prevented them. He devoted 
himself now more closely to active engagements. 
He always spoke of his wife with extreme fond- 
ness, and sometimes his tears flowed afresh. 
There was a degree of sadness, which was per- 
ceptible only to his family, however, that settled 
upon Dr. Bowditch during the last four years of 
life, in consequence of this deprivation. 

In the latter part ofthe summer and early days 
of autumn of 1837, he began to feel that he was 
losing strength, and had occasionally pains of 
great severity. He continued his employments, 


however, without yieldmg to suffering. In Jan- 
uary, 1838, he submitted to medical advice ; but 
it was of no avail. He sunk rapidly, under a 
severe and torturing disease, which, for the last 
fortnight of life, deprived him of the power of 
eating, or even of drinking any thing, except a 
small quantity of wine and water. Until the 
last moment of his life, he was eno;ao;ed in at- 
tending to the duties of the Life Office, and to 
the publication of his Commentary on the '' Me- 
canique Celeste." During this time, after he 
lost the power of visiting State Street, he used to 
walk into his library, and there sit down among 
his beloved books, and pass the hours in gentle 
conversation with his friends, of each one of 
whom he seemed very anxious to take a last 
farewell. He received them in succession, du- 
ring the forenoon ; and towards those whom he 
loved particularly, he showed his tenderness by 
kissing them when they met and when they 
parted. His conversation with them was of the 
most elevated kind. He told them of his pros- 
pects of death, of his past life, and of his perfect 
calmness, and reliance on God. He spoke to 
them of his love of moral worth. '^ Talents with- 
out goodness I care little for/' said he to one of 



them. With his children he was always inex- 
pressibly affectionate. " Come, my dears," said 
he, '^ I fear you will think me very foolish, but 
1 cannot help telling you all how much I love 
you ; for whenever any of you approach me, I 
feel as if I had a fountain of love which gushes 
out upon you." He spoke to them, at the dead 
of the night, when he awoke, pleasant as a little 
child, yet with the bright, clear mind of a philoso- 
pher. He told them of his life, of his desire 
always to be innocent, to be active in every duty, 
and in the acquirement of knowledge ; and then 
alluded to a motto that he had impressed upon 
his mind in early life, that a good man must have 
a happy death. On one of these occasions he 
said, '' I feel now quiet and happy, for I think 
my life has been somewhat blameless." 

It was noon, and all was quiet in his library. 
A bright ray of light streamed through the half 
closed shutter ; he was calm and free from pain. 
One of his children bade him good-bye for a 
time. Stretching out his hand and pointing to 
the sunlight, he said, ^^ Good-bye, my son, the 
work is done ; and if I knew 1 were to be gone 
when the sun sleeps in the west, I would say, 
' thy will, oh God, be done.' " Observing some 


around him weeping, while he was quiet, he 
quoted his favorite passage from Hafez, one of 
the sweetest of the poets of Persia : 

** So live that, sinking in thy last long sleep, 
Calm thou may'st smile while all around thee weep." 

On another similar occasion, when one who 
was near him had a sad countenance, he told her 
to be cheerful, and then taking Bryant's Poems 
he read the four last verses of that exquisite 
little poem called the " Old Man's Funeral." 
It is so beautiful in itself, that I want you to 
read it, and perhaps you may like to see how he 
thought it applied to his own condition. I have 
placed in parentheses his remarks. 


I saw an aged man upon his bier, 
His hair was thin and white, and on his brow 

A record of the cares of many a year ; 
Cares that were ended and forgotten now. 

And there was sadness round, and faces bowed. 

And women's tears fell fast, and children wailed aloud. 

Then rose another hoary man and said, 
In faltering accents to that weeping train, 

Why mourn ye that our aged friend is dead ? 
Ye are not sad to see the gathered grain. 

Nor when their mellow fruit the orchards cast, 

Nor when the yellow woods shake down the ripened mast 


Ye sigh not when the sun, his course fulfilled. 
His glorious course, rejoicing earth and sky, 

In the soft evening, when the winds are stilled, 
Sinks where his islands of refreshment lie, 

And leaves the smile of his departure spread 

O'er the warm-colored heaven, and ruddy mountain head. 

Why weep ye then for him, who, having won 
The bound of man's appointed years, at last. 

Life's blessings all enjoyed, hfe's labors done. 
Serenely to his final rest has past ; 

[I cannot agree to the next two lines.] 

While the soft memory of his virtues, yet 

Lingers like twilight hues, when the bright sun is set." 

His youth was innocent ; [yes, I believe mine was inno- 
cent ; not guilty, certainly.] his riper age. 
Marked with some act of goodness every day, [no, not 
every day — sometimes.] 

And watched by eyes that loved him, calm and sage, [oh, 
yes, watched by eyes that loved him, and oh ! how 
calm, but I cannot add, sage.] 
Faded his late declining years away. 

Cheerful he gave his being up, and went 

To share [he hopes] the holy rest that waits a life [he hopes] 
well spent. 

That hfe was happy ; every day he gave 

Thanks for the fair existence that was his ; [yes, every 
morning when I awoke, and saw the beaufiful sun 
rise, I thanked God that he had placed me in this 
beautiful world] 
For a sick fancy made him not her slave, 
To mock him with her phantom miseries. 


No chronic tortures racked his aged limb, 
For luxury and sloth had nourished none for him. [yes, 
that is all true.] 

And I am glad that he has Hved thus long, 
And glad that he has gone to his reward ; 
Nor deem that kindly nature did him wrong, 

Softly to disengage the vital cord. [Oh, how softly, how 
sweetly is the cord disengaging !] 
When his weak hand grew palsied, and his eye 
Dark with the mists of age, it was his time to die. [Yes, 
it was his time to die ; remember this ; do not 
look sad or mournful, it is his time to die.] 

One of the curious effects of his illness was his 
new love for flowers. He had never shown any 
great pleasure in them during life, although the 
rose, or lilly of the valley were frequently in his 
vest during the summer. One day during his 

illness, Miss sent him a nosegay, in the 

centre of which was a white camelia japonica. 
^' Ah ! how beautiful !" he exclaimed, '' tell her 
how much I am pleased ; place them where I 
can see them. Tell her that the japonica is to 
me the emblem of her spotless heart." Music 
too, as it had been his delight in eariy life, now 
served to soothe his last hours. One evening, 
when surrounded by his family, and he was free 
from all pain, the door of the library was suddenly 
opened, and his favorite tune of Robin Adair was 


heard richly swelhng from some musical glasses 
in the entry. Its plaintiveness was always 
delio-htful to him ; and after listenino; to it till 
it died away, he exclaimed, '• O, how beautiful ! 
I feel as if I should like to have the tune that 
1 have loved in life prove my funeral dirge." 

It was on the fifteenth of March, 183S, that 
being too feeble to walk, he was drawn for the 
last time into the library. On the next day he 
was confined to the bed. On that day a beau- 
tiful incident took place, which 1 cannot forbear 
to mention. He had called his daughter his Jes- 
samine, and about twenty-four hours before his 
death, she obtained for him that delicate white 
flower. He took it, and kissed it many times. 
He then returned it with these w^ords : '' Take 
it, my love ; it is beautiful ; it is the queen of 
flowers. Let it be for you, forever, the emblem 
of truth and of purity. Let it be the Bowditch 
arms. Place it in your mother's Bible, and by 
the side of La Place's bust ; and to-morrow, if 
I am alive, I will see it." 

In the evening he drew a little water into his 
parched mouth. '^ How delicious," he mur- 
mured. '^ I have swallowed a drop from 

« Siloa's brook that tiow'd 
Fast by the oracle of God.' " 



On the morrow he died. Had he lived nine 
days more, he would exactly completed 
his sixty-fifth year. On the next Sabbath he 
was laid quietly by the side of his wife, Mary. 
As his body was carried towards the spot, gen- 
tle snow-flakes fell upon it, fit emblems, they 
seemed to be, of his purity.